From Bragg to Tuzla

21 - 25 Jan 1996

Sun 21 Jan

Up at 0600, go to an ecumenical service at SWC at 0700. Classes all morning on interculktural communication, history and culture, current situation. Outstanding stuff.

We spent the afternoon at the vehicle storage yard fixing minor loading gigs and some not so minor. One of our fill-ins, MAJ Prusecki, had to have his load completely re-packed. CPT Fellinger, the movement officer, did it. He was not happy. (Prusecki turned out to be OK; in retrospect, this is a case of a generally sharp guy dropping the ball, like we all do occasionally.) We fueled up a few vehicles and get done at 1700.

At 1900 we meet to get a final briefingg, new orders (179 days) and language references. Included are nice Croatian dictionaries, the work of SGT Raker, who went to a Serbo class in Maine in December. I catch an hour or so of sleep for later, Miller and Comfort draw computer, night vision goggles, etc.

At 2300 we gather at the vehicles. We discover that Mob Det has locked the compound gate nearest the vehicles. Those guys never miss an opportunity to be stupid. I discover my Gerber Tool is missing - it evidently fell off my belt when I went to the latrine. (This was the first of a lot of small losses during the deployment, and I eventually got absolutely paranoid about losing something major, like my weapon. Fortunately, nothing of the sort happened.). We head off to ADACG (Arrival-Departure Airlift Control Group), also known as the Green Ramp. On a poignant note, directing traffic at one intersection was SFC Dennis Kieltyka, a Chicago cop who was with us in the Gulf.

It is bitterly cold, in the teens. A Spanish woman NCO is in charge of the vehicle weigh-in; it turns out she lived for a while in Denmark - Denmark, Wisconsin, about 15 miles from Green Bay! My driver is SGT Reschke, I'm assistant. We got to the inspection area and wait - and wait. I get a few short naps in the vehicle, have had about 7 hours sleep in the last two days. We get our pre-inspection at 0400. At 0500 the assistant drivers are sent back. The Air Force inspectors finally came at 0700 (Just like the Gulf).

Mon 21 Jan

Got back just in time for mask issue at 0530. Drew weapons and were supposed to have a briefing by BG Campbell, whom we knew from Kurdistan. Then the brief is cancelled. We are supposed to leave at 1100. Clean barracks, a real mess what with mask boxes strwen about. I called Shawn about 0900, then get to nap a bit. Just before 1100 we hear the flight is pushed back 3 hours. Five minutes later we get a rush call to get on the bus! We bus over to the Green Ramp. With our weapons, flak vest, LCE, mask, carry-ons and sensitive items we are really loaded down. At the Green Ramp we hear the flight really is pushed back three hours (yet another case of Mob Det not getting the word?). I got to the snack bar for lunch just in time for a power failure. I managed to get one of the last cooked burgers.

At 1410 we load up on the bus, bus out to the C-5A and wait on the grass. It's clear, sunny, and 60 degrees. The news team starts setting up to film as we board. One of the neater things about today was watching the A10's and F14's. The F14's in particular would get up a few hundred feet, then go vertical. We start boarding at 1545, wheels up at 1600.

About 1-1/2 hours out, probably off Canada, we have a mid-air refueling. We were told to expect a bumpy ride, which we had, but it wasn't too bad. Then some folks complained the plane was cold, so they turned the heat on - like a sauna. Eventually they got it under control. We had a nice in-flight box lunch: 2 ham and cheese sandwiches, snacks, an apple, juice and soda.

Tues 23 Jan

Wheels down at 0710 in Frankfurt. Gray and cloudy. We spend a couple of hours in the transit lounge, have a video briefing. Nothing new. We bus over to the USO tent for a midmorning lunch, then bus to Darmstadt and stay at Ernst Ludwig Kaserne (ELK), where I stayed last May during Warfighter. The Kaserne is due to be turned back over to the Germans and all the facilities are shut down. We check in and turn in our weapons to the arms room by 1400. Make a PX run to Cambrai-Frisch Kaserne at 1445, get 100 DM and $20 in singles for use in Bosnia. Come back, get a nap, then over to chow at Kelley Barracks. Chow was steak and mushrooms - outstanding. Do laundry and to bed at 2000.

Two things that really work are the poly-propylene underwear and neck gaiters, a simple polypropylene tube that can be worn any number of ways. I almost left mine home when I first got it; I'm glad I didn't. The cold-weather boots are very warm but stiff - I have blisters on both heels where they rub.

Wed 24 Jan

Up at 0430, bus to Frankfurt at 0530. Eat breakfast at the USO tent. Lots of amusement and gag photos at the "Frustrated Cargo" sign. We hike to the military departure terminal at 0830. My group is on Chalk 614. Chalk 612 with half our crew leaves at 0920.

CSM Matayosian's spirits are getting better as we get closer to deployment. He's really eager.

We leave for our C-17 at 1115, wheels up at 1205. Touchdown in Tuzla at 1400. Not much to see on the way; we're jammed into web seats alongside the vehicles. Flak vests give good neck support for in-flight snoozing. Our first look at Bosnia is a thin coat of snow, 30 degrees, hazy. Looks like Germany in the winter. We convoy to the entrance to the log site, then to Division HQ area. On the way we get a look at the size of the operation: huge. There's lots of mud but so far none of the quagmires people had imagined. (Just you wait, Dutch. Those words seem unbelievably naive now!). We have a somewhat clumsy time backing our vehicles and trailers in, what with inexperienced drivers and lots of cross-traffic. While setting up, our attached newsmen get taped Valentines from us. Amazingly, Shawn saw mine when it aired. We draw ammo and move to our living areas. This is a former Yugoslav air base, and in an old barracks the Norwegian UN troops had built little particle-board cubicles. Apparently this is their SOP. We stay here, but there's no heat. Nearby is the former dependents' school, where the Europeans have their mess hall in the cafeteria. We draw T-rats in an outdoor tent, then go in to eat. There's lots of local help in the school. We spend part of the evening practicing with the night vision goggles and the GPS systems.

An NCO from the 96 Bde says 1AD alienated many of the NGO's and PVO's with their attitude - they think they are at war. (This may have been true, but people got smarter as time went by. The NGO's and PVO's probably expected us to be doing humanitarian assistance, which was not the plan. And some people did treat this as almost a combat operation at first, before getting a bit clearer perspective. Without knowing what the threat posture would be like, that was understandable.)

One of our teams, attached to an MP Brigade, is already moving to Tuzla East.

This has the potential to be a high-theft environment. Everything must be watched carefully.

Thu 25 Jan

Vehicle guard 0500-0600. Eat chow, go to fuel point. Rain turns to sleet. Roads in mountains are impassible. We can't deploy. We put IFOR stencils on our vehicles, then reoccupy our cubicles. This time I get one with a window.

After noon things get interesting. A Russian soldier parks in our area. His LTC is leading a bunch of visiting journalists around. I chat with him for a bit - he's from Vladimir, a few hundred kilometers SE of Moscow, and has an unusual accent. He pronounces it "Vlidyimir". Never did I think I would be chatting with a Russian soldier on a friendly basis. SSG Hughes comes by. I introduce her: "Ona mnogo krasivyee chem ya" (She's much prettier than I am.) Our attached news guys eat this all up. At 1445 we assemble for a march to Div HQ just as the Russian journalists show up. They start filming us. It gets confusing.

At Div HQ we have to wash our boots before going in. I had heard about this and thought it was just more eyewash, but the traffic going into the building justifies it. The place would be a pigsty otherwise. We have briefings until 1630. Briefers include CSM Jim Tilley of 1AD. He strikes me as tough but a good man. "Nothing rattles me - if you have a problem we'll work it out" "Treat everyone with respect and dignity". He promised to get us some heaters for our building and followed through. He was followed by SGT McKinney, a sharp and experienced troop who had been in Saudi and Somalia.

I surmised that McKinney's E5 was not his real rank - he is just too sharp. Libassi guessed he might have been higher at one time: "he speaks what's on his mind - some people don't like that". We also heard he was jerked around on a promotion board - his records were flagged for one day.

We were told about a briefing where some Russian officers were in attendance, unaware that a US linguist was nearby. One said "If we knew how pretty American soldiers were, we'd have torn down the wall a long time ago. Also, Russian IFOR soldiers are paid $800 in US dollars a month - way above regular Russian pay but below what we are paying local kitchen help. That prompted a Russian major to say "We should quit the army and go wash dishes for the Americans". It makes me indescribably sad to see them reduced to that state, even if I did spend many years preparing to fight them. Their system stank, but their people deserve better. A regular Russian private gets 2200 rubles a month, enough to buy a loaf of bread.

Another word of wisdom, that we would hear often and see violated almost as often: "This is a marathon, not a sprint. Pace yourselves". We also heard a good one-liner about an officer in the Gulf whom a Saudi likened to a lighthouse in the desert - brilliant but of no use. We also heard "Springtime in Bosnia means guys will try to start killing each other". We braced for it but thankfully it did not happen.

The press has run a lot of stories critical about US policies such as not letting troops go to town. After the brief I sympathize a bit more with the military position. They are trying to keep this a straight CA mission in support of the military operation, which is to keep the warring parties apart. The media will constantly try to generate mission creep. Doing favors for people can easily create the impression of partiality, and giving candy to kids leads to mob scenes, as we saw in Kuwait and Kurdistan.

It occurs to me that the log situation here is about like Saudi 2 months into Desert Shield (say, October 1990), not like January 1991 (6 months) when we finally arrived. Things are still somewhat disorganized and primitive. Also, the resources devoted to this operation are miniscule compared to Desert Storm.

Evening was quiet. I spend the evening reorganizing my gear, then pull vehicle guard 2000-2100.

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Last update 23 Apr 1997