Toward Srebrenica

8 - 13 Mar 1996

Fri 8 Mar

Cold and mostly cloudy. Quite a bit of the snow is gone. Scott and I go to Vlasenica and Sekovici. Ray goes into Kladanj, Reschke gets pulled for SOG suddenly.

In Sekovici we shop for a kiosk for LA Pat. We talk to two owners, a man and a woman. The man has his act together and will likely get the nod.

Next we go to Vlasenica, talk to Brown and Root and take reports of a damage claim. Supposedly tanks did the damage on December 6 - sounds like a scam to us. Then we locate the Red Cross, the main office for nine municipalities. Brigade has not been here yet! It's a nice, friendly visit. The kids have a display of art in the hall titled "Children of Vlasenica for peace". At a kiosk I pick up a Serb paper from Sarajevo, full of angry articles on the Serb exodus from Sarajevo, IFOR, etc.

Scott was annoyed when we left about the vague guidelines for today but this was a very productive day. We get back about 1630.

Ray tells us he may be sent home. Supposedly there is a list of seven people, or so he heard from Trish. (Am I on it because of the Red Cross call? Well, as it turned out, no.) Scott is anxious about the situation. Later on Ray called Kilgariff. Apparently the supposed list of seven doesn't exist.

Ray says other officers respect me. That's nice to know. Bachi also had nice words for my progress in Serbian. I got a card from Faith and John Bryant in the mail.

Sat 9 Mar

Cloudy with light snow. I had radio watch 0300-0600; the office was crowded non-stop with morale callers. I got up late - almost 0900; the chance to sleep in felt good. COL Batiste will be doing a radio interview later today, so Reschke cleans the office. I clean the stairs and move the trailer. Scott and Ray are in Kladanj all day and don't get back until 1600.

SGT Lindemann asked me to greet the local reporters since "you can get by", but Edina Kljako came by so she took over. The local reporters come by about 1400, Batiste and company about an hour later. His PAO describes the questions as "softball". The interview goes extremely smoothly and everybody is very pleased.

Ray and Scott go over to Staff Call. Bachi and I translate the USAID proposals for Kladanj. I did the shorter one myself.

I got an Easter Care Package from Shawn plus a packet of letters from Marcie Schmidt's class. Reschke also got a package. Included was an Appleton Post-Crescent from 4 Feb with a picture of Gina Hurst and a letter she wrote from Bosnia.

Sun 10 Mar

Hazy sun. I stay back from Data Dump and expect a nice quiet day. Ray asked me to translate the USAID proposal for the bakery, but had Bachi out with him (typical!). I have a shot at it anyway and get some of it done.

At 1100 Ray calls with a message to get out to LA Pat and report to CPT Jackson for a mission at 0800 tomorrow. We speculate the mission has something to do with Srebrenica. In a roundabout way, it does. I decide this mission could be anything and pack accordingly, even ready to sleep in the field. I catch a ride to Pat with an outgoing convoy about 1430, get there about 1600. They put me up in a spare bunk. SP is rolled back to 0730, then to 0700. I laid down early to relax about 2000 and fell right to sleep. I got a nice long night's sleep.

LA Pat is pretty nice. Most of their modules are up with good bathrooms. There is no mess hall yet but the chow at the mess tent was very good. They found a good bakery in Sekovici and always have the best array of pastries and desserts.

Mon 11 Mar

Up at 0600 for 0645 departure - early! This is going to be one of the most interesting and strange days I will have. I still do not know what is going to happen, so I took all my gear, a good thing as it happened. We headed east to Milici then north on Route Camel, then east on North Dakota. CPT Jackson, the C Co. commander, rode in a Bradley so I rode his Hummer. This is the farthest east I have been (or will get, it turns out). A nice day, sunny and not too cold, but with several inches of snow on the ground.

It turns out we are the QRF for COL Batiste and some other folks who are going to Bratunac and Srebrenica (so my hunch that this had to do with Srebrenica was right, in a roundabout way). We stopped at Kravica (CP 5677) and waited; the convoys came through about half an hour later. I am along because the last QRF saw a lot of refugees from Sarajevo last week and thought it would be a good idea to get some CA expertise (where's my ice cream cone? It was here when I set it down yesterday!). By today the flow is a trickle. To pass the time I do a traffic count, talk to a few passers-by on foot or cart, and keep track of heavily laden cars with Sarajevo plates as a possible indicator of refugees (luggage racks, etc.). Cars with plates beginning in SA or CC (Cyrillic for Serbian Sarajevo) are from Sarajevo. Cars from Serbia still have the red Yugoslav star and BG if they're from Belgrade.

Kravica is at a bend in the highway with ruined houses on both sides. Right at the bend is a still-uncompleted large house with a weird box on the top of the chimney. I never did figure out if it was an original part of the chimney or built as a lookout. It was spattered with bullet holes; evidently somebody had been up there. I start finding shell casings. Eventually I found 16; one an AK, the rest shorter, probably pistol. Also we see people coming down trails out of the ruins; apparently there are still people living back in there. About 1300 CPT Jackson came by, a stern but decent black officer. I showed him the casings. He said "you may as well see this. Got a camera?" We went up behind the ruined house and found a skull and bones. The skull had a large exit wound on one side and may have been set up. The rest of the skeleton was disarticulated and on the other side of a small path. We went on up the path a short way but found nothing else. We did see some ordnance litter so we decided not to get off the path.

The ruined house, like a lot of other buildings, had a cross with four C's. Our interpreter said the slogan stood for Samo Sloga Serbina Spasiva - Only Unity Saves the Serbs.

Batiste came back through about 1400. He told everyone to keep the bones quiet. He dropped off SFC Poh, their interpreter, and SPC Schnakenberg, a PSYOPS man. He's a first LT in the IRR but went enlisted to go active. He may get his Officer Basic course completed before PLDC - the Army won't accept his Reserve commission in lieu of PLDC! He holds our majors at Brigade in low esteem: "Shoot one as an example to the other two. Then shoot the other two."

MAJ Bestul's convoy comes through about 1500. He says Srebrenica is totally trashed. Entire blocks of apartments had their furnishings tossed out the windows into huge piles. He picks up Poh and the others; we follow them out about 1515. By about 1700 we are back at LA Pat with just enough time to top off and head for Command and Staff. Good thing I was loaded and ready to go all day. We got to Demi about 1800. Ray was nowhere to be found. While waiting I had chow in the wonderful newly-opened mess hall. He finally came by about 1900. We don't get out until about 2200 - 1LT MacDonald shooting the breeze as usual. Ray is steaming; this is no business, just talk. We finally get in at 2230, and I pull radio watch until 2400.

The weather all day was beautiful. I saw my first flowers and first signs of people getting the fields ready.

Tues 12 Mar

Up at 0630. So much for spring - it's snowing heavily. The mess hall is now upstairs and I eat there for the first time.

I came back last night to find a package from Shawn's church with two Press-Gazettes, also a card from Shawn sent originally to Fort Bragg in January. It came back stamped "Unable to Forward", which is pure B.S. - somebody was just too lazy to find our address. There was also an absentee ballot, probably courtesy of my alderman Guy Zima. (Zima is a gadfly with a lot of enemies and needs all the supporters he can get.)

About 1100 we march into Kladanj with Psyops. We drop off some gift cold-weather clothing and teddy bears at the Social Welfare Office, and Scott and Bachi get haircuts. (My Fort Bragg buzz-cut is still serviceable.) Then we dropped in on the radio station to see how PSYOPS was doing, get a vehicle count for the normality indicators, and walk out to get grid coordinates on the mosques and Moslem cemetery. The view from the cemetery was pretty. I wish I had my camera. There's a picturesque water mill on the river nearby (there are a lot of them in Bosnia, but I never saw one in working condition). Our GPS unit was giving us weird readings at the cemetery and may not be working correctly. We came back to catch the last of the PSYOPS radio show, then get back home about 1730.

I spent the slack time in the morning making a short-timers calendar. Ray wrote up an appeal for civilian gifts to send back to selected people back home. I proofed it and thought it was a fine piece of writing.

The snow ended in the afternoon after dropping about an inch and a half.

Wed 13 Mar

Clear and sunny. Warm and sunny all day except for a brief rain shower at 1400. I see my first bee. Spring is coming. We leave at 0830 and pick up a convoy at Demi. Also our laundry. I thanked Briscoe for his help in getting to Tuzla the other day. A few minutes later I was getting hot so I decided to shuck my polypro. I was fully in the process when guess who walked by. Embarrassing.

We go to Vlasenica. I stay with the vehicles on guard while Miller, Reschke and Baci recon. Some Serb officers arrive, a chopper lands in the soccer field, and they take off. Miller and company arrive about 1300. So does the chopper. Batiste took the Serbs on a ride over the ZOS and the Drina. A MAJ Zajac, who was at our TV interview a while back, asks for a volunteer to take photos, so I do. Then Miller and I do another foot patrol into Vlasenica, including stopping for a burek in a restaurant. A burek is a rather greasy pastry with bits of sausage in it. To my surprise, there is a deep gorge on the south side of Vlasenics; from the highway it looks like the town just keeps sloping on up into the mountains.

We got a couple of laughs in Vlasenica. When a man passed by, I said "dobar dan". He asked (all this is in Serbian)"are you from Yugoslavia?" I said no, but I speak a little Serbian. He asked "Serbian, or Croatian?". I answered "Here, Serbian." Baci got a kick out of that, said it was exactly the right answer.

If you meet somebody three times in a day, the custom is to buy them coffee. While walking around, Baci ran into one group for the second time and explained the custom to us. In the group was a very pretty young woman. I said "If I run into her three times, I'll ask her for a date." Baci roared.

At 1445 we head out for Sekovici. Half a mile out of Vlasenica we were stopped by a disabled AVLB; we were lucky to catch the last quarter hour of a two-hour tieup. Psyops heads out to do its 1700-1900 radio show. Scott, Baci and I go to the school and drop off two duffel bags of Teddy Bears. Then we wait at the coffee shop for a woman to drop off her damage claim for a wrecked fence (see March 1). I managed to trade a dress SFC stripe for a BSR patch. While we're waiting for Psyops to get done, it gets dark. The stars are brilliant. I pointed out the Andromeda Galaxy to Scott. In a couple of weeks, I would yearn for a night like this as Comet Hyakutake comes by (and I never see it). We depart Sekovici at 1940.

Our highers were in a weird mood today. On the way to Vlasenica, we get a Blue Dart message, supposedly for alerts of the highest priority, telling drivers to clean their windshields. When we get to Vlasenica, we're told to check in every half hour or Demi would be forced to send their QRF (Brigade HQ is a few miles away!) Then, when we get to Demi, we're told we are denied permission to be dropped off at Diane and leave three vehicles to return. They say we may have to spend the night. Fortunately, Scott cajoles CPT Jackson's first Sergeant into diverting his convoy. Bless them both. We get in about 2115, and I pull radio watch until 2400.

Scott and I had a long talk about the team. Apparently Ray is going home. So are LT McMurray and some others.

We were told that Sekovici, almost entirely Serbian, was hit 800 times by shellfire from the Moslem side but Vlasenica hardly at all because it had a mixed population and the Muslims didn't want to risk hitting their own property.

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Last update 23 Apr 1997