The Phone Line

25 - 29 Feb 1996

Sun 25 Feb

Clear but very cold, in the teens. Friedland's LT Bredeson rides with us to Demi. We leave Demi after 1100,and arrive at LA Lisa about 1300. Brown and Root has lots of modules up and is road gravelling. They have done an amazing amount of work in only a week. The road into Lisa makes a teardrop-shaped loop around the hilltop where the living areas will be. On the back (north) side of the hill two roads branch off from either side of the loop. These junctions were always tricky because you had to make a sharp left uphill turn while racing at full power or you'd get stuck in hubcap-deep mud. They are finally getting fixed. But for now parking is impossible. The battalion acting Sergeant Major MSG Zigler finally leads us back out to the exit and we park there. Zigler is a young-looking, no-nonsense Texan who looks very young for the job. He must be on the fast track.

Barb Miller is here so she and Scott get some time together. I meet with our gang here and go back to the vehicles at 1530. Zunker had been home on two weeks' childbirth leave. He was back with pictures of his baby.

Poh is a bit concerned at the impression we have of things here and was at some pains to dispel rumors of just how bad things are. Partly it's out of their control - the commander and CSM would rather have them digging foxholes than doing CA.

A CA team is to be moved from the Thunderdome, where they're superfluous, down to Olovo, where Barb is. They are to be ready to move back to the 47th FSB on order (first rule of Army life - never release resources permanently).

Today turns out to be the best view I will ever get of the mountains - a sharp, clear, sunny day with superb visibility. The mountains southeast of Vlasenica are very steep, sharp ridges seen end on. There's a mid-level terrace, then the valley bottoms, giving the landscape a distinct "two-story" appearance. I can never quite be sure if the two levels represent two different erosion surfaces or different rock types, although the high summits everywhere are limestone cliffs.

The convoy is late again. We leave at 1700. LTC Briscoe takes off, leaving several stragglers stranded. We get halfway out, and find the road blocked by a stuck civilian double-trailer rig (on this road!), followed by a long line of semis. The commander sends back three vehicles to round up the strays. Then we move. I start up, then stop when I hear a shout. CPT Cloutier had gotten out to inspect the blockage, and his vehicle left without him. He got in with us and chatted pretty amiably. From here he's going to CA and PSYOP school, then regional officer study and graduate school. An odd choice for a hoo-ah type like him. I am also stunned to find out he hails from Lewiston, Maine, though with a French name like Cloutier that makes sense.

Bachi had been down at the Panorama since noon, making phone calls. (He was an unofficial go-between, passing messages from folks on one side of the ZOS to friends and relatives on the other.) We stop there to pick him up and wait for the straggler patrol. With Cloutier and Briscoe both along, we get out and do full guard posture. We stop at LA Pat to drop some people off - more guard. We go to Demi, refuel, and get back to Diane at 2130. I grab a couple of hours sleep, then pull radio watch 0000-0300.

Mon 26 Feb

Up at 0730. Ray and Scott go to Vlasenica. I stay back, Reschke has Sergeant of the Guard 0600-1200. I work on personal gear and take a short nap.

Ray has been planning a breakfast for the mayor and tasks me with going into town to get the supplies. I have Reschke and try to get more guys for a bigger patrol. Two guys from D Co. volunteer. Then LT Bredeson says he'll come too. Then he backs out when he finds we have no radio plus he thinks 5 is too small a patrol. His company SOP calls for 8 plus a radio. He's apologetic but I see his position completely. He has orders of his own to follow. Reschke, Semir and I go in along the upper street - Marshal Tito Street, to avoid "hostile" contact. We check at the phone company on the fee for installing phones at Diane and Demi. They won't do it until IFOR pays for a phone line that was wrecked by tanks, but they have no figures so we will have to go in again tomorrow. (This was going to turn into a major circus before it got resolved. They're not playing hardball - they simply have no cash whatever to do anything until IFOR pays them.) Then we tour the markets, pick up eggs, potatoes, meat, and onions. Ray wanted peppers too but nobody had any - apparently they don't cook with peppers much here.

After getting back from town, I take advantage of the warm, clear weather, in the 40's, to do some hand laundry. The kitchen is being converted for mess use so we may not have free access much longer (The nerve! Wanting to use a kitchen to cook in!)

Ray and Scott get back about 1730. The Muslims are taking over Sarajevo and refugees are streaming out. Vlasenica is full of them. I sort of wish I'd gone. The meeting with the mayor apparently got downright surreal. He was going back to the days of the Turks to justify the war, was claiming the Muslims were going to make the Sharia the law in Bosnia, were trying to out-breed the Serbs, were all planning to take four wives, etc.

Radio watch 2100-2400. I spent the time writing thank-you's to some of Shawn's friends who had been writing to me.

Tues 27 Feb

Up at 0730. The long-awaited breakfast with the mayor arrives - the day after the cooks shut off the kitchen stove and cleaned it, so we couldn't use it! Ray uses his portable camp stove to whip up an egg-potato-and-meat omelet. We also have T-Rat cake, juice, coffee and garlic bread. A lot of work but it goes off very well. The one down side was that a projected post-breakfast tour of the Sokolina wood factory fell through.

At noon CI, PSYOPS and we foot patrol in. SFC Robb's replacement, SSG Collins, comes along. A nice quiet black man, and tropical fish fancier. A very pleasant person, all through the deployment. He's unfailingly courteous and even-tempered. PSYOPS hands out papers. CI, PSYOPS and Miller go to the radio station, Ray and I deal with the phone company. They agree to put in phone lines and file a damage claim. Very simple, all done. NOT! The saga is only beginning! We return at 1600, have a debriefing. I get a hot shower in the evening, write letters. It's nice and quiet.

It feels like spring. It's been below freezing at night but 50 during the days. Lots of snow has gone. This feels like more than just a thaw. (In reality there was a lot more snow coming later.)

Reschke and Comfort go to Command and Staff.

Five years ago today we got in from our trip up Tapline Road.

Wed 28 Feb

No mission today. I sleep in until 0830 - 12 hours. If felt good - a chance to recover my sleep deficit. A quiet day. I play on the computer and do language study. In the afternoon we brainstorm tomorrow's mission to Stupari. It's another nice spring-like day. The telephone people are supposed to come by to fill out damage claims but do not show. Radio watch 1800-2100. Five years ago today we went to Kuwait.

Thu 29 Feb

24 years ago today I ETS'ed for the first time! It's cloudy at dawn, clearing slowly to a nice day at noon.

The usual morning arrangement. We convoy to Demi, pick up CI and Psyops. Then we go to Stupari, visit the Red Cross and the large rock quarry north of town. They were already supplying gravel for Demi. Then we drove up to Nocajevici in the hills east of Stupari, only a couple of kilometers from the ZOS. We had a report of damage by tracked vehicles that turned out to be wrong. So we stayed and assessed the village. The curator of the mosque took us there, about a kilometer away. It's a small square building brightly painted in folk style inside. It's 500 years old. They hope to build a new one and keep this for a museum. A lot of rural mosques are like this with a sheet-metal minaret sticking up out of the roof. It may be sacrilegious, but I always thought of the Tin Man from the Wizard of Oz every time I saw one. The view from up here is lovely. Then we return to Kladanj so CI and PSYOPS can visit the TV station.

Then a nice day turned tense. We got to Diane to find that General O'Neill (we thought at the time it was General Nash) was visiting. Miller came out, found kids climbing on a vehicle, and scolded the driver, SPC Felmet. We drove into town and parked in front of the City Hall. With O'Neill in the area, we posted guards to look sharp. I gradually became aware of some loud music. It was Felmet again, playing the CI boom box. I had him shut it off. Felmet was really not a bad troop, but this was sure not his most brilliant day.

There are also rumors of pressure to move back to Demi. O'Neill doesn't like having people living here, but he's not in our direct chain and the battalion seems willing to resist. For a tense evening, everything turns out all right.

Cloutier departs today or tomorrow. He really got roasted at the Hail and Farewell at Demi. Someone came in impersonating him, loaded with weapons and ammo and shouting "Where's that f------ dog?"

This is the last I hear of Cloutier, so what do we make of him? I have written a lot about him, not always in the most flattering terms. Over the top? For sure. He seriously overreacted to the threat level, not out of fear but because he really wanted action. He knew his stuff and I think he would have been good in combat, maybe even reckless. On the other hand, he had some good ideas for getting organized in the early days here. He had a sense of humor, and was civil enough to people he felt were taking their jobs seriously. He had no use for people who don't take their jobs seriously, but neither do I. I think I could have worked with him. He's another one of the complex people I met over here, with bad traits mixed with good, that just defy simple pigeonholing.

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Last update 23 Apr 1997