The New Team Comes In

31 May - 4 Jun 1996

Fri 31 May

Sunny and pleasant. We go out at 0800 to the schools and arrange mine classes. MAJ Prusiecki comes by at 0900, and we go to the high school for a class at 1000. SSG Grubbs of the Engineers is an OK soldier but a poor teacher, and Jedina's translating is just plain drab - it's a very flat performance. Scott was embarrassed and angry. When SFC Coyle asks for questions, I stand up and ask the kids "Znate li vi gdje su mine ili neeksplodiranije granati? Ako vi znate, kaze policiju" (Do you know wher there are mines and unexploded shells? If you do, tell the police.) That got a big hand - they were surprised any American could speak any Bosnian. Major Prusiecki said it was the best part of the class. Actually the kids here know shells and mines by sight as well as any EOD person. We went back to LA Demi to prep for the next class. SPC McCaddon's class at 1200 at the elementary school was much better - he's a lot livelier.

I rode to the schools crammed in the back of a low-back Humvee pickup truck. There wasn't enough of an opening for me to get out with all my gear, let alone control my weapon. Scott and Bachi were in hysterics, with Scott taking pictures of me.

Scott, Bachi and I head downtown on foot. We visit Social Welfare and say goodbye, go to the mayor to discuss getting land plat maps to document land ownership, then discuss the speed bumps with the police. They were just put in without informing anybody, including us. An UMCOR (United Methodist Committee on Relief) representative drops by LA Diane, and we arrange to meet him down at the Hotel Bosna. We spend over two hours talking. He has some good information and we share our ideas with him. I get into a good chat with his interpreter about the US and draw him a map. He has a very garbled idea of US geography. It turns out he's familiar with Istanbul, so we had a good time reminiscing about that. He's delighted to encounter IFOR soldiers who are relaxed in Bosnia. We ride back in the UMCOR rep's truck, a repeat of the clown act with us piling into and out of an impossibly tiny vehicle with full battle rattle.

Scott and George leave for Command and Staff at 1745. I go to bed at 2000, pull radio watch 0000-0300.

We pick up our replacements in Tuzla tomorrow!

Sat 1 Jun

Radio watch 0000-0300. Scramble the QRF at 0145. On the way out, I see the full moon, hopefully my last in Bosnia. I remember having the same thoughts in Iraq seeing my last full moon there.

Up at 0600. We go to Demi, then convoy out at 0900. We stop at BSA, get money from Finance and mail home some packages. Then on to Tuzla. The Scouts, always a rowdy bunch, were in fine form on the radio on the way in. We dropped Sem off at his girlfriend's. She was wearing a sensational red dress and the Scouts broadcast their approval loudly. We make a PX stop, I pick up a couple of T-shirts, then we meet our replacements. Their OIC, a major meets us at the CIMIC. We load him and his gear up in our truck, go down to Tent City, and pick up the other three: a CPT, SFC and SSG. We have a minor snafu about seats in the Scout vehicle - they also got two new people they didn't expect to have, but we crammed 'em in somehow. We head back to the BSA. First stop is to pick up the medics we'd dropped off on the way up. That gave me a chance to get some pictures of a gigantic dragline shovel in the mines. Then we stop at the main base and SSG Boswell picks up some new VRS (Visual Recognition Signal) panels. These are orange on one side, red on the other to signal emergencies. We finally have one for our vehicle after four months! Scott and LT Bishop conspired to swipe my Kevlar. I had a moment of mild panic as we started to pull out.

We arrive at Diane at 1700. We pull the vehicle up to the stairs and unload. I eat chow, then go to radio watch. Scott briefs the new guys. First impression, I write, is that they seem OK. I am due for another lesson in the complexities of human nature, Bosnian style. It was a hot day, sweltering in flak vest. I hit the sack at 2200, utterly exhausted.

Sun 2 Jun

Up at 0730. Roger has guard. Scott and George take the new guys in to Demi. I spend the morning doing up hand receipts. Scott and Company are back at 1230. They rest up a bit and we do the final corrections to the hand receipts. We spend over two hours going over everything and signing things over. Then we get ready to patrol into Kladanj. We try to get out before BG Cherrie comes in, but he meets us at the bridge. He gives us a warm farewell speech, tells us the three most-used MOS's in theater are aviation, engineers and MP's but CA is not far behind. He says his goal is to meet every single soldier in theater before he leaves. He won't make it but he's trying. Amir said later he was really moved. Scott and I drop off at Mladen's; the rest of the crew does the standard tour loop downtown. It's hot but a thunderstorm in the afternoon breaks the heat.

Today is Bojana's 16th birthday. Scott gives her a hardbound copy of Bridges of Madison County. They have a big feed on: chicken, pork, schnitzel, dessert, and coffee. Relatives are there, also Mr. Hrnic. Scott's artist friend drops off his painting of the mosque. Mladen's folks give us small gifts. It's an emotional time. We don't get back until 2000.

We have a joint team briefing, plan out the week, discuss ground rules. I get to bed at 2300.

The new NCO's are concerned about the drainage at the showers and plan to discuss it with LT MacDonald and Chief Black. I would be careful; they're the new guys in town and sounding off too soon is not a good idea. They weren't here for the mud.

Mon 3 Jun

Up at 0530, out at 0630. We have chow at Demi. By chance LTC Briscoe and CSM Nieves sit at my table. Briscoe mentions that we'll be leaving soon. I take the opportunity to share two observations with him. First, that just about without exception, I have liked and respected the people I worked with in the 4/12. Second, in a unit mixed with whites, blacks and Hispanics, in 4-1/2 months I have not heard one racial comment. He seems pleased. He has a lot to be proud of.

We hit the first signs of impending trouble. I hoped to quit driving now that the replacements are in but George doesn't want to ride with the SFC. He thinks both NCO's are wise-asses. I drive, George and the new major ride with me, the NCO goes with Psyops. The major tells me his NCO's want to party and need a hard line (they strike me as too sensible to get too far out of line). Also he starts hinting he wants to use the office for a living area, or move in to Demi (after we go, it's his shop).

We convoy out at 0800, stop in Vlasenica, and call Milici. Then we go to Milici, drop off the new letter at Boksit regarding the firing range. We visit the hospital and see the doctor. He shows us a video of some surgery they did on mine injuries. One soldier had a gigantic blister on his leg the size of a watermelon but recovered fully. We introduce the major and NCO at both places. Then we have a nice visit with the priest. He tells us of a letter he wrote asking for aid, and gave to a worker at LA Lisa. We tell him we'll try to track it down.

Chief Kennedy is inventorying arms at the Serbian military headquarters. We rejoin her and wait. There were thunderstorms earlier but now the sun comes out. This goes beyond sweltering - it's literally burning inside the flak vests. It's brutal. Only an occasional light breeze keeps it from being total torture. We leave for Lisa at 1430. We take the major to the CIMIC. I describe the problem of the priest's letter to Jeff Poh - SSG Buelow (bless her) already has it!

Then we head back, making a quick stop at LA Pat. En route we hit a downpour. Three of the vehicles peel off for Demi. We go in. George verifies the bread contract, I take the major up to the bridge for an eyes-on. We get in to Diane at 1730. Iafter chow, I pull radio watch 1800-2100 (my last one ever in Bosnia!). The IPTF guys drop in for a farewell.

Scott drops in. He says he sees real problems with the new team. He says the TOC always jokes about CA but they respected us - we were always out on missions. These new guys may stay under the flagpole too much.

Tue 4 Jun

Cool and cloudy early on, sunny and hot in the afternoon. Shawn calls at 0830 while I'm at the computer. She updates me on problems with the carpets, the upstairs ceilings, and the cats. I promise to call her back.We hike out at 0900, and show the new team the normality indicators route. At 1000 we visit the imam. It's a nice visit. One of the NCO's impresses him with his Arabic. Then the day gets totally weird. The imam invites us to ask questions. It's obvious he wants to talk. The major asks about polygamy (rare even among Moslems), then comes up with something that Scott and I simply couldn't believe. He said that he had heard that if women weren't available, it was permissible for Moslem men to have sex with boys. Scott and I looked at each other in utter horror. The imam, surprisingly, seemed unperturbed, and gave some response about prostitution under Islamic law. Later we found out why. Bachi was as dumbfounded as us, and said "I was so embarrassed, I didn't translate the question. I asked about prostitution instead." Bachi, you are a man of decency and integrity, and a shining credit to the Serbian people.

Scott asked if we might see the mosque, and the Imam was happy to take us in. He showed us the pictures that he had bought in Mecca, and was delighted that we both knew enough about Islam to understand what he was talking about. The mosque had a temporary ceiling to protect against shell fire. The imam took us up into the dome, which was done in lovely pastels. The major and his NCO stayed outside. This is a great honor. Does he even have a clue what being allowed in the mosque means? The major is chafing at the time this is all taking!

Then we head up to Social Welfare. Jagoda is not in, so we leave for a bit and visit the IPTF. The major goes off on another spiel about how his men are not here to socialize and he expects the IPTF to respect his orders. Scott and I try to crawl under the couch. We exit hurriedly, drop the major off at Social Welfare, then drop in on Peter and Michael. Scott is furious and can't resist venting. Michael has a stern Prussian manner and a built-in scowl, but I am struck at what a pillar of humanity and sensibility he is compared to what we just went through.

We meet Jamo for luncheon at a restaurant near JKP. The mayor comes along later with the representative from a German humanitarian organization, who somehow (I haven't a clue how) knew I had been in Giessen last year. He, the new CPT and I had a talk in German. The captain is a native speaker but has lived so long in the South that his German accent, overlaid by Southern, just sounds like a mountain twang. When he mentions U.S. place names he switches from German to Southern and back in milliseconds - it was a hoot to hear. The major had a nice long chat with the mayor and Jamo and later said it was an excellent day.(!)

We hike back, and on the way I talk to the NCO's about the major's concerns about socializing. As I suspected, these guys are smart and value their stripes too much to jeopardize them on something foolish. We get back just in time for the 1745 movement to Demi for the training meeting, which was held tonight because of BG Cherrie's farewell. There was an awards ceremony in the dining facility afterward. While waiting, Roger and I hid out from a fierce downpour. Roger got an AAM, the rest of us ARCOM's. The commander alluded to Roger's comedy act, said when he gave Roger the award people asked "who's that guy with Roger?" I said when my turn came that I liked and respected everyone I worked with and if they respected me a fraction as much it would be one of my supreme accomplishments. The commander asked what my middle initial I stood for. I said "I'm outta here!". He said "Everyone's a comedian!"

A lot of feelings tonight. Deep respect for the people I worked with, humility that they accept us. I have an awareness that there's a huge spiritual dimension to what we have done here. It comes and goes in a flash and I can't articulate it, except to say we have looked straight at evil here at times.

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Last Update 23 Apr 1997