Factories, Refugees, and Teddy Bears

1 - 7 Mar 1996

Fri 1 Mar

Another nice day. Five years ago today we pulled into Kuwait at 0300. Today Miller and I went to Sekovici to meet with the mayor and three factory heads. We toured the marble cutting plant, a clothing factory and a metal shop that made furniture hardware. They had a shot at making brake shoes at one point. To get to the metal shop, Scott and I went in a tiny car with three civilians, and us in full battle rattle. Getting out looked like the circus act where twenty clowns pile out of a kiddie car. The trees in the front lawn have a sheared-off look from a shell hit. We had a long lunch of steak and eggs with pickled peppers (Peter Piper didn't show, though). It was a very well organized and productive visit. Our Serb friends gave us a lot of the same talk the mayor of Vlasenica did: Muslims are going to turn Bosnia into a fundamentalist state, out-breed the Serbs, etc. After the visit we checked out damage to a fence - an APC did it turning around.

The day turned cloudy with faint sun, snow flurries by the time we reach Demi. I got a Care package from Doug and Ethel McLaughlin (Ethel is my wife's cousin, Doug is in the 403rd CA Bn out of Liverpool, NY. He was in Saudi, and we managed to get together at Jubail.) Also got my laundry back - it had been out since 14 February! Luckily, there is a convoy for Diane leaving almost as soon as we get to Demi.

By 1900 it is snowing hard and by 2100 it is a blizzard as hard as any I have ever seen in Green Bay. By 2200 there are 6" of snow on the ground. Power is out for a while, luckily I had saved the SitRep before it went out.

Sat 2 Mar

This is supposedly a down day but at 0830 Scott tells me we have a mission, a foot patrol. I'm somewhat P.O.'d by the change in plans. We can't get the person we are supposed to meet by phone so I just hang out on call. We have light snow - I thought this was supposed to be over. It turns out there is no mission after all. I catch up on letters.

I get a bad scare in the afternoon. I went to load the new SOI - it changes on the first of alternate months, and I can't find the ANCD. I ransack the office, my quarters, the vehicle, nothing. It's classified and I am really getting concerned. Then I found out Scott had taken it and forgotten to tell me.

We have sun alternating with snow squalls all day long. A Care package from Shawn comes in.

Sun 3 Mar

Snow in the morning - we are back to square one. All the snow that melted last week is back on the ground. The sun breaks out at times.

The convoy to Demi leaves abruptly. Thank God I'm in the vehicle when Ray yells to go. We leave without Bachi or Ray's briefing note cards. Also, Ray realized en route that he could have taken our report disk and finished his reports at Demi.

The mess hall at Demi is open and very nice. One of the few civilized things around.

We convoy to LA Lisa, have the usual Sunday routine. We depart at 1730 and are back to Diane at 1945, early for a change. Radio watch 2100-2400. I go to bed exhausted.

Mon 4 Mar

Bachi comes in at 0600 and tells me I left my weapon leaning outside the door to the room. I'm so tired I'm starting to make dumb mistakes. I leaned it there while unloading my gear last night and just forgot it.

More light snow. I'm up at 0700, we convoy to Demi at 0800. Then we convoy to Sekovici. LTC Briscoe meets with the Drina Corps commanders, Miller and Bachi do price and availability assessments. I pull vehicle guard and do a traffic count. (We're parked on the main road just north of the center of town at a bridge). The sun is nice at midday but the wind is very cold. For the second day in a row Briscoe is kind enough to drop us off at Diane. We get in about 1600. I get a decent nap before chow.

Demi is now sending over cooked food. The quality of the mess improves markedly.

I got a compliment of sorts. Semir was looking at the salad dressing and asked me out of the blue: "what is kisely?". The Russian word kiselo means acid so I guessed he meant vinegar. He just expected that I would know a Bosnian word.

This is as good a place as any to remark on the language. Serbo-Croatian is one language, but it's called Croatian if it's written in Roman characters and Serbian if written in Cyrillic. Bosnians understandably don't want to be lumped in with either group, so they have begun calling the language "Bosnian". All three camps are starting to emphasize the distinctive dialect features of their own area. The contrast with Arabic is amusing; an Arab from Morocco can scarcely understand one from Iraq, written Arabic is rarely spoken and spoken Arabic is rarely written, but Arabs insist it's all one language. In Yugoslavia we have a single language with far less variability than Arabic trying to fission into three languages.

Women here can be very pretty but they often dye their hair an exaggerated deep red or orange and use very dark lipstick. People here have horrible teeth because of poor dental care and hygiene and the cultural taste for sugar. It's not uncommon to see missing teeth and huge cavities.

Tue 5 Mar

Up at 0800. Share cinnamon-raisin loaf from Care package for breakfast. Like previous days, mixed sun and light snow. We foot patrol into Kladanj. Miller, Reschke and I meet with Jagoda in the social welfare office. She told us the first year of the war Kladanj was virtually under seige. Flour was DM 25 a kilo, oil DM 40 a liter. People were very hungry, there was no fuel for cars. Anyone with a bike was considered rich. There were cases of people hiking 100 kilometers to get food. The last shells hit in the area in the Fall of 1995, some near her home. One hit a vacant lot and killed three kids who were playing. We were shown the spot, right off Marshal Tito Street. She gave the number of people killed in Kladanj as 120. We heard different figures from different people.

Jagoda's aunt dropped by. She had witnessed the killing of five family members. The Serbs took the pants off her son to see if he was circumcised, and fired into a cabinet where two other kids were hiding.

Then we hiked off with three of her assistants to visit some local refugee families. The first stop was a ramshackle wood house where an old lady lived alone, burning rags for heat. Then we visited an upstairs room where an old lady, her daughter and granddaughter lived with three cats. The old lady had a broken hip and no mattress - she was in constant pain. She cried the whole time about not being able to keep warm.

Meanwhile, Poh, Zunker and a reporter come down from LA Lisa and walk in with Ray. I go back to Marshal Tito Street to try to meet them while Scott and Reschke take off for the next stop. I finally track Scott and Reschke down with the aid of local kids - they had cut across to the main highway.

What look like new apartments on the main road are mostly inhabited now by refugees. At one place two very cute girls about 20 are leaning out and gawking at us. We visit one apartment where a woman lives with three kids; her husband and 15-year-old son were killed early in the war. One daughter is 17 but looks 12, the other has CP. The mother just had surgery. Across the hall is a 70-year-old lady who lost her husband, two sons and a daughter in Vlasenica.

Poh and Zunker catch up to us. This day is a revelation to them; first time they have been out on a real CA mission. We visit the home of an old lady who recognized us; she had met us at the mosque before. Her son, 40 years old, is a little retarded. We see him just about every time we go into town.

One of the cute gawkers walks by. I said hi; she turned very red.

We hike back at 1500 so Poh and Zunker can catch their LogPak (supply run) back to Lisa. I pull radio watch 1800-2100.

We discovered today that all the Serb-controlled opstinas have offices in Tuzla but few refugees can get there to register for ID cards and apply for aid (not that there is much to give). There seems to be no support network among the refugees. A common lament is "I have nothing left but God". The physically and mentally handicapped are especially vulnerable; we met a disproportionate number of families with handicapped members today.

Wed 6 Mar

Cloudy in the morning but becoming warm and clear in the afternoon.

A weird day. Ray wakes me up at 0015. I have a Red Cross call. I got one sentence over the phone before our radio relay link went down (which it did a lot), but it was enough to know that Shawn had called about Brendan. Fortunately we had planned to go to Tuzla today anyhow. At 0830 we convoyed to Demi, picked up CI and Psyops, and headed for Tuzla. We got to just short of the BSA when we stopped - the PSYOPS truck broke an axle. LTC Briscoe happens to be going to Tuzla along with a morale run. They stop and pick me up; Briscoe knew about the call.

We got to Tuzla about noon and went in through the far east gate. I hiked all the way across base to the phone tent. I called Shawn. Brendan was in the hospital, but Shawn said everything was under control and there was no point in my coming home. Then I went over to the CIMIC center. Shawn had given the message to Deb Luebker, who faxed it to Cindy Ernst. I called the Red Cross to let them know I had the message, then I told Cindy to tell Kilgariff I got the call and am not leaving.

The morale run left at 1620. We got to the convoy to find it was still stuck in the same place after six hours. Briscoe's convoy got there ahead of us. He was furious. He vows to stay there until a wrecker comes. One does about ten minutes after I got there. I rejoined my vehicle, we took the disabled vehicle in tow and headed back to Diane. I have radio watch 2100-2400.

Thu 7 Mar

Mostly sunny. We foot patrol into Kladanj with two maintenance soldiers, and spend 1-1/2 hours with the imam and Chaplain Carr. The imam is fluent in Arabic, speaks some English, is well-informed and very respectful of other faiths. A genuinely noble man. He looked very dignified in his robes and turban, which he wears in ceremonial settings.

Scott has a brief word with our guards. They're doing the proper infantry thing but are way too uptight for this mission, and they're putting people off. Scott tells them to loosen up a bit, and they do. Good for him. All those tabs and patches give him a lot more credibility for saying that than I would have had.

We visit the baker regarding bread for Diane and Demi, then go to lunch courtesy of the city of Kladanj (Mr. Hrnic). We have Schnitzel, fries and salad. We'll need guards to fend off the volunteers if word of this gets out. (We never lacked for volunteers to accompany us on patrols. It was one of the few chances most soldiers had to get out and see the country, and they enjoyed it. After a while we had a standard tourist loop we did to show them around.)

We're back by 1500. Ray goes to Staff Call. I fight and lose a running battle with the TOC over not waking Chief Black up to give an Arrowhead Up report (sensitive items accounted for). Then Comfort and LT McDonald get stranded on Route Mississippi. There's a convoy coming down from BSA, so I call and divert them to pick Comfort and McDonald up. Then we learn another convoy will get there sooner, so I call and cancel the diversion. Then we hear that SFC Holmes' vehicle has a soldier's weapon in it by mistake - the soldier left it there while doing some work and Holmes just drove off without knowing it was there. So we had to make sure the weapon got secured. Lots of radio traffic. Ray finally relieves me at 2245.

Ray finally comes in with a Hummer full of teddy bears from the States - Honolulu to be exact. Task Force Eagle is going to draft an op order on how do deliver them. Amazing. A commissioned officer in the U.S. Army is going to draft an op order on how to pass out Teddy Bears (it never comes).

Every experience I have had plus everything I have ever heard from experts on disaster relief says: if you want to help after a disaster, send money, not in-kind donations. And everybody ignores it. It feels so good. This operation illustrates every reason why not to do it. For openers, the bags were all transparent - for security the first thing we had to do was cover the bears whenever we passed them out. Then we could not pass the bears out ourselves, it would have cause a riot plus ill feelings when we ran out. That means we had to try to find reputable local people to do it. We did our best, but we heard stories of things being handed out to children at other times, then taken back as soon as the donors were gone and re-sold. We were warned of a few people to avoid. Of all the needs in this area, teddy bears probably rank pretty low, and the only people to profit from this operation was Toys 'R' Us. There were idle textile factories in both Kladanj and Sekovici that could have made teddy bears on site and created jobs as well.

Return to Bosnia index

Return to Professor Dutch's home page

Forward to Next Page

Back to Previous Page

Last update 23 Apr 1997