Out of Bosnia (Temporarily)

6 - 9 May 1996

Mon 6 May

Out at 0700 to LA Demi. We drop off our award writeups, I return the boot disks for the computer and Psyops' hand mike. I call Shawn, then sit near the commander at breakfast. He comments on the "exciting time" on Saturday. I reply it was one of our more interesting days.

Then we go to LA Pat, talk with the locals at the north gate and tell them the bridge will be out for a while while the Engineers lay an AVLB over it. Then the day turns stupid. At 1100, LTC Briscoe comes to meet with the Mayor and Deputy Mayor of Sekovici and the commander of the VRS. Nobody coordinated with LA Pat until the last minute. The First Sergeant there, who has a vile disposition anyway, snarls at me "Thanks a lot. My guys jumped through their ass getting ready for this." Now there were officers all over the place, and he jumped on me solely because I was the only person there junior to him. I had encountered him once before (22 Mar) and was puzzled then; now it's clear. Basically he's a coward; he doesn't dare express his complaint to officers but looks for the only person he outranks. On my way to Budapest in a few days, I would meet one of the soldiers from here who was outprocessing; he despised the guy. As for "jumping through their ass", the setup consisted of pushing a pool table out of the way and covering it with a sheet, and setting up a table and chairs. Half an hour's work for two guys, tops. He soon after left for a staff position where he will be good for nothing but making life miserable for any enlisted soldiers around the TOC.

The reason this rankles me is that it may not have been our fault that the commander and the XO didn't coordinate, but we knew the meeting was going to happen. We missed a chance to look good because we didn't pass the word along on our own.

At the meeting, the Mayor asks why there has been no payment on land in two months. Our reply was that we had heard other landowners who had a share coming hadn't been paid. (The Mayor insisted that all payment go through him - guess why?) The major from the VRS discusses the "medical exam" issue. Briscoe flatly refuses. Both agree it needs to be discussed at higher echelons. After the meeting I try to smooth things a bit with the First Sergeant but he still snarls.

Then we go to Milici, foot patrol around, and I do a sketch map of downtown. My plan is to create town maps for the follow-on team. We return at 1520, get to Demi at 1700, and stay for the Training meeting. Command and Staff is now Fridays only, with a Training meeting on Monday. Scott said it was a total waste of time, plus the sections are now supposed to create "training books." All in all a superb day for military BS. As Scott says, it's really starting to get stupid.

While waiting at Demi, I respond to a call about a landowner who wants compensation for a damaged wheat field. There is a chopper skid mark and a few foot tracks, a few square meters of damage at most. He wants 300-400 kilos of flour. He says soldiers train in the field, thinking it's grass, insists the field is ruined. Don't tell that to somebody from the Midwest. I find out Hadrick was there today, also. I suggest he put up a fence. He says there is no wood (there's a lumber mill across the road with a scrap pile burning day and night). It's obvious this is an attempt to get some extra money. I can't blame him but I also won't assist him. I do pass the word along about the wheat; the NCOIC of the platoon that was training is genuinely concerned about doing the right thing and is extremely cooperative.

We are very late getting out tonight for a very unlikely reason. SPC Wooten, about as reliable as a soldier can get, can't be found for half an hour. When I see him, I snap at him. Between the day's frustrations plus ordinary exhaustion I lost it a bit. Once I cooled off I felt bad; Wooten is a sincerely devout born-again Christian who really practices what he preaches and is as honest and reliable as they come. Next morning he apologized to me and I in turn apologized for snapping at him. I told him he really was a fine soldier.

Tues 7 May

One month to go! The man with the damaged wheat field drops in at 0620! We are really getting mad. We tell him that there is no way we can give him cash or flour on the spot. Complicating matters is that the field apparently belongs to mistress, so he can't easily pursue the business officially. I'm due to go on pass tomorrow, so I pack, shower, and clean my weapon. I spend much of the day on reports. Thunderstorms come up in the afternoon. Psyops comes in to do their radio show. Some MP's come by to get written statements from Hadrick and me about Saturday. I wrote about one bad MP a few weeks ago; to even accounts, these two are cool, quite professional and friendly. We no sooner get our statements done (we both write them up in considerable detail) then the MP's get a call to drop the matter because CID is taking over.

Wed 8 May

We leave for Demi at 0700. There is a prayer breakfast this morning which was excellent. LTC Briscoe shared how his faith helps him keep his perspective when things go haywire, as they have lately. Not only was there the AWOL soldier, but last night at 2000 somebody found a mine in the parking lot! The best guess is that somebody on patrol found it, took it as a souvenir, then (wisely) chickened out. The Engineers blew it in place. I told Briscoe that Hadrick and I were at Demi waiting to go on pass if CID wanted to talk to us. They had us in for short interviews at 0930. Interesting; uniforms but no rank or name tapes. We are not really material witnesses and they really weren't all that interested in us.

Then we hang around and wait. Thunderstorms, quite heavy, hit about noon. We get a bad scare when we hear the LOGPAK (logistics convoy) has no seats; they only have HEMTs and Humvees. However, a five-ton truck for Demi was along as well. We finally leave for BSA about 1400. It's a rough ride in; we go in the back way and the bouncing and dust are brutal. We arrive at 1600, go to the HHC tent and turn in our weapons and magazines. Because of the recent incidents at Demi, the armorer had been told he might have to move back there. Talk about a "say it isn't so" look! He has his hooch fixed up nice, including a lounge chair made of PVC pipe. We check out the PX, eat chow. I lay down about 1800 intending to take a nap and don't get up except to get out my poncho liner at 2000. It's chilly and I wonder if I'll regret not bringing my sleeping bag.

Thu 9 May

It's too chilly to sleep with just a poncho liner. In the wee hours I put my BDU's and socks back on. We're up at 0430, truck over to the assembly area at 0530, then board a bus for Tuzla. we get a nice view of the Tuzla valley filled with fog on the way down. Initially they don't distinguish pass soldiers from those on leave or ETS, and we get sent to the wrong spot. We walk down to Tent City 2, locate the right spot, then go to chow. I realize I thought of everything but a copy of my orders. I go to G5 and get a copy of the unit mobilization order (and nobody asked to see them at all; for that matter, nobody asked to see my pass.) I head back to the assembly area. The air is cool but the sun is intense. We start processing at 1100. It's very hot in the sun, and sweltering on the buses; we are still in full battle rattle. We leave on time at 1200. There's no air conditioning but the roof vent makes it comfortable once the bus is rolling. The ranking bus officer is LTC Neal, a cheerful and good-natured Southerner (who wouldn't be cheerful and good-natured today?)

It's hilly north of Tuzla but there aren't many good photo spots. I doze off a lot. As we approach Gradacac, we see the plains begin abruptly not far ahead. There are nice views but the best is marred by a garbage dump. Gradacac itself is pretty shot up. We stop at 1BCT to pick up more troops and some of us get a quick stop at the snack bar. There are lots of mosques and a neat Turkish fort on a bluff. We cross the ZOS and see lots of destroyed homes near Brcko. I figure out from the damage patterns that small caliber shells on a tile roof shatter the tiles but dissipate their energy and don't damage the rafters; that's what happened to the church in Kladanj. We pull over at a truck stop and wait half an hour for our escort change (the MP's have strict limits on their patrol areas). Then we wait again in Brcko for another half hour for clearance to cross the bridge. We finally cross the Sava at 1640. There's a huge cheer; we're out of Bosnia and can shed the flak vest and Kevlar. We get a short way into Croatia and stop again. SPC McNutt from our unit is located here and joins the bus. There's a swamp across the road with swarms of mosquitoes. The frogs make a wild racket. The holdup is three PCS-ing soldiers from 1BCT who missed the bus. General incredulity; how could anyone leaving Bosnia be late for the bus? Also anger; everyone else has to hurry up and wait, let them wait. We finally move on toward the rest stop.

This part of Croatia looks like Germany with a slight Latin flavor, the tile roofs, pastel colors, tendency for houses and outbuildings to face in around a central courtyard. The land is a flat wooded plain, parts of it swampy. At times it reminds me of parts of the South. The three latecomers finally join us at 1930 at a rest stop; they were flown up. We have a brief spatter of rain through the roof vents but nobody minds much. Not far beyond, the town of Dakovo has an impressive twin-towered church, but there's no chance for a photo in the poor light. According to signs, the town is celebrating its 750th anniversary. The normality of Croatia is marvelous; billboards, traffic lights, activity. While Bosnia was paralyzed by the war, life went on here. Dakovo is modern and growing. There are good roads and modern truck stops. Sunset is colorful. there are mountains on the horizon and pink thunderheads.

Around 2200 we cross the border and stop at Harkany in Hungary. There is a major beer-buying spree, a great morale booster. I get down my flak vest for a pillow and doze until we get to Taszar after midnight. We're greeted by some partiers, including a cute girl in shorts. Nice way to begin a holiday. We check in. I'm a tent NCOIC; I call out my people, get a heater, and settle in. It's 0100 when I get to sleep.

The 432d people on this pass run include me, CPT Cindy Ernst, SGT Suzanna Raker, SSG Elizabeth Hughes, SPC McNutt, MAJ Terry Frost, SGT Todd Zunker, MAJ Stu Sarkela, SGT Lawrence, CPT Wayne Huempfner, CPT Jim O'Neill, CPT George Hadrick, SPC Levanetz, SPC Schmerler, SSG Vogt, CPT Suero, SPC Antone and MAJ Jim Jaworski ("Jaws"). Also on the run is our Navy pal Dosen.

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Last update 23 Apr 1997