Out of the Mud

30 Jan - 3 Feb 1996

Tues 30 Jan

Light snow all day, about an inch by evening.

A day of screwups from the get-go. I go to our trailer to get the water cans, only to find it gone. I have a bad moment thinking somebody took it before I find it behind our truck. I go off to get water, trudge all the way across camp, only to find the water trailer was right next to our own trailer! Later on I also find that I took CPT Comfort's shirt in the dark.

The mud is getting impossible. Almost everywhere it's up to my boot tops. Things can't move at all.

At 0900 we go to Kladanj City Hall to meet with the Mayor. Greenwood, Styron, Comfort, Miller and I are there, also CPT Perozo from the engineers (we would get to know him well - great guy). LT Bishop, the S-5 is there, along with Edina Kljako, a DOD civilian interpreter, and Bernadine (Bernie) Rall, a civilian contracting agent. I suddenly realize there are two CPT Comforts here (I have his shirt - he's wearing his Gortex because he couldn't find it!), so I dash out to the vehicle, change into my Gortex, and give Ray his shirt. 5 or 6 landowners come in, sign leases for land at LA Demi. CPT Perozo explains to one landowner, who owns a restaurant right at the ZOS boundary, that he wants to use some land adjacent for a Joint Military Commission meeting site. This spot will also become a checkpoint. They settle on 4400 DM/mo. We hear the going rate for open land is 0.50 DM/sq. m./mo, and 1-2 DM for buildings. The totals strike us as high. In a couple of months we will face a messy problem because of it.

We got our first exposure to Bosnian hospitality: booze, juice, and extremely thick coffee, very sweet, with about 1/4 inch of sludge left in the cup after you're done. Most of us took tiny sips of the liquor for form's sake when one of the locals called Prosit, but no more.

We stop by PAKBAT, but the Pakistanis are still not out. We drop Reschke off at LA Demi for 1500-1700 guard duty, also drop off Comfort and Greenwood. Then we drive out to check a parcel of land the artillery people want to use for a training area. Although it only measures 100 by 200 meters, it is owned by 4 people, the mayor, his brother, and two others. Land here is generally fragmented into tiny parcels.

We go back to town and stop at City Hall. I hear on the radio that the mud is now so bad that they have cleared the vehicle park, moved all the vehicles onto the road, and begun bulldozing. We go back to Demi close enough to pick up Greenwood and Comfort about 1800 and return to the Bosna Hotel downtown for a farewell for the 96 CA people. I stay out with the vehicle and monitor the radio. A Blue Dart (urgent) message comes over about an unknown chopper heard near Srebrenica. About 2200 the power in Kladanj goes out. I call in a spot report. This, I later learn, is commonplace, but it sets in motion an interesting chain of events.

CPT Greenwood brought us out a Pepsi and hot sandwich each, something like a gyros (later we learn it's called a cevapi) - very good. I went in for a latrine break. There is no heat in the hotel. I think I'm better off in the vehicle.

A bit later, the driver of one other vehicle tries to start his vehicle to get some heat, and gets only clicks. I have seen this often enough on my civilian vehicles - bad solenoid. I go over to investigate when up pulls CPT Cloutier in a van. He evidently wondered, from my report, why people were in town after dark and came out to check. He starts reaming the other driver for sitting in the vehicle without a helmet and not paying attention. He pulls me aside and gives me a hoo-ah speech about the need for security, the terrorist threat, and so on. I know enough about Cloutier to go to parade rest and go Yessir, Yessir, 3 bags full. That seems to satisfy him, plus I had on all my regulation gear and was tending to business when he came up.

Bosnian hospitality includes alcohol, which was evidently being consumed inside. Cloutier was evidently not happy with what he saw. I heard much later that Cloutier got on Bishop's case about it. Cloutier's next station is Fort Bragg (CA and PSYOP school, incredibly) - Styron's turf. Styron told Bishop that if Cloutier made trouble he's make Cloutier's life at Bragg "a living hell". But Cloutier, who is more reasonable at times than a lot of people think, let it ride.

We get back to camp at 2300 and park in the tracked vehicle lot at the west end, a little better than the other lot but not much. Miller and I have guard 0300-0500, so I sleep in my BDU's.

Wed 31 Jan

CA, YOU'RE AN HOUR F------ LATE FOR GUARD! Have your NCOIC in the First Sergeant's tent at 0900! SFC Robb bellows into our tent at 0345. Scott had set his alarm watch but we slept right through it. I roll out, get my boots on, and relieve the guards who are now almost an hour past due for relief. Scott joins me a few minutes later. It's about the coldest we will see - in the teens, but our clothes are adequate. We pull the rest of our shift and go back to bed until 0800.

Scott is willing to go with me but we decide this is NCO business, and the 0900 meeting is an anti-climax. Robb asks "are you going to be late again today?" in a tone that suggests that most of the anger has worn off. I say no, explain what happened. He seems satisfied. He was annoyed at our oversleeping but really steamed because nobody knew exactly where we were. Robb is actually a decent and likable guy and I would like to have a good working relationship with him, especially since he is the CI NCO and we will be working a lot with CI and PSYOPS.

With that, our 24 hours of nonstop screwups comes to an end. The sun comes out at 1030! We see the first blue sky since we got here. We stay in camp and take care of business. I change my BDU's for the first time since arriving in Bosnia. We get an hour or two of sun, then back to clouds. The trees above the cloud line are all coated with hoar frost and beautiful.

I spend until 1400 working with the 96th to load the SOI into the ANCD, finally succeeding. Pull guard 1500-1700. Get back to find out Reschke had left the lantern on and burned out the battery. Bulldozers (armor type) are scraping the sea of mud. A hard freeze helps.

Thu 1 Feb

Up at 0030 to escort Comfort and Miller to the First Sergeant's tent for guard duty. It's down to 17 tonight. Later on we have our first cloudless day, but the warmth melts the mud.

The start of a new month creates the impression that time is beginning to pass. January seemed to last forever, and so many things happened. We went from home to Bragg to Tuzla to the mud here all in one month.

A slow day. Miller and I install the power cord for the GPS unit to the battery in the Hummer. This would be a ten-minute job for someone familiar with the task but took us two hours, partly because we were in no real rush. Then we find out the fuse is blown and no replacements are available. We never did get it fixed. Also we did our first really detailed PMCS on the vehicle.

The mechanics are at PAKBAT. Comfort challenges Cloutier - give me space to set up my operation or let me move. We move tomorrow at 0900. In the afternoon I chase down a list of radio call signs; easy - the RTO in the TOC had them. Then we pack some of our stuff for tomorrow.

At 2000, Miller and I go over to the TOC to trace our map overlay. We wanted to work in the briefing room but couldn't because Cloutier was discussing log issues, particularly running out of fuel at one point. As much of a pain as he can be at times, he is one of the few people who really has a sense of how to organize things. For example, right now almost everyone pulls guard every day - even company-grade officers. Cloutier wants to organize a standard guard mount the way it should be done, where enlisted and junior NCO's pull it one day out of four. Eventually it happens.

Fri 2 Feb

Clear at dawn, very cold. We break camp at 0630. There is a serious problem with interpreters - they are all tied up. We will have to get one later. We finally move to PAKBAT - YES! Miller and Reschke stay there to set up, Comfort and I go to the Hotel Bosna so the 96 CA can say goodbye to some folks, also for Finance Team business. This is my first clear view of the mountains south of Kladanj - steep, rugged, pretty. The day is sunny, clear, cold but pleasant.

I wait out in the drive with the rest of our vehicles and spend all morning trying to restore communications. SGT Reschke had turned the radio off, not to standby. The result was he zeroed out all the COMSEC codes. After trying everything I can think of, I decide the only option left is that we're using the wrong key. I start trying all the keys and get it on the first try.

Ray is starting to get seriously annoyed over the hassles of movement and arranging interpreters.

In the afternoon we stop briefly at LA Pat. Many of the camps have women's names and are usually easy to connect to some actress. The 4/12 camp is Demi (Moore), Bde HQ is Lisa, the small company-size camp in between is Pat, and PAKBAT will soon be Diane. The checkpoint at the ZOS will be Sandra (Bullock?) for a while. Other female camp names in the region are Molly (Ringwald?), Alicia (Silverstone?) and Angela (probably not Lansbury - nobody will be in Bosnia that long). From Pat we go to Sekovici. Our interpreter is a Russian-speaking SPC Smith who was cross-trained in Serbian (a so-called Turbo Serbo). We meet with the president of the Sekovici opstina (municipality). CPT Comfort outlines the upcoming USAID meetings and guidelines for proposals. Smith was pretty good. I was pleased that I could get a lot of his translation, although the president's speech was a bit too fast for me. Then the president takes us down the street to a cafe for a coke and a clandestine beer for Smith and CPT Greenwood. The president spends a lot of time flirting with the girls in the next booth. He's a balding, round-faced fellow with a scraggly beard, which he eventually removes. He says women love it, both his wife and others! (We hear rumors of US officers being offered "second wives" but there are never any takers - the General Orders are pretty strict.) Over the next few months we become pretty good friends with the president.

From Sekovici we go up to Bde to drop off Smith, and see Poh and Buelow. They are not nearly as well off as 4/12; they have no living modules or showers and will be the last to get them. The Bde commander, COL Batiste, insists his supported units be served first - commendable but leaves the folks at Bde without amenities the longest.

The view from here on a clear day is said to be lovely but mostly the hilltop is in the fog. Even on a clear day it's depressing - isolated, spread out, no amenities, and burned-out buildings. At 1800 we convoy back to Demi, wait while Comfort meets with the staff, then get back to PAKBAT about 2200.

This morning the 96 CA guys found out they are not leaving until the 7th. CPT Greenwood is a bit testy. At the Bde, he asked me who was going to guard the vehicle. In the Bde HQ! Later on at Demi he drops by for a chat. I suspect he realized he was a tad cross and wanted to smooth things over. No hard feelings - I like him when he's grouchy better than a lot of people I know when they're happy.

Sat 3 Feb

A down day. We get up at 0800 and spend most of the day setting up our living and work areas. I get a shower for the first time since Germany, also do hand laundry and boots. Now I'm tan and my boots are black instead of the other way around. We are in what was once an upstairs restaurant. This facility used to be a truck stop with a large garage. Adjacent to us is a kitchen. The stove has one burner permanently stuck on - wasteful but handy for heating water and drying clothes. The kitchen is utterly filthy - the Pakistanis simply allowed garbage to pile up everywhere. One local just shrugged and said "soldiers were living here", as if that made it all right. SGT Reschke did a heroic job cleaning up the mess. It took all day to clean it up to merely filthy, several days more to get it up to simply unsanitary. The 96 CA guys say these are the nicest facilities they have seen. We are very lucky.

It's a gorgeous day in the 50's, but with steadily thickening clouds.

Comfort and Greenwood leave for Command and Staff at 1600. This meeting is held every night, but eventually gets cut back to three times a week, then twice, then only once. They get delayed while somebody in motors tries to track down who to blame for a Hummer with four flat tires. I relax and read in the evening and write to Shawn. Comfort gets in at 2330, spends until 0130 briefing us. We go to bed only to be jarred awake by a long burst of weapons fire. We eventually determine it was "celebratory fire", or "happy fire" as we called it in Kuwait.

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Last update 23 Apr 1997