Strategic Reserve Displays Firepower
By Linda D. Kozaryn
American Forces Press Service
GLAMOC RANGE, Bosnia, Apr. 9, 1998 Armored troop carriers and tanks rumbled across the overcast plain, machine guns chattering and 120mm guns thundering. Artillery rounds hit hard, spewing billowing clouds of dark smoke. Overhead, attack helicopters spit rocket clusters into the low hills.
For more than an hour, the sounds of war filled the air. The cacophony once again shattered this troubled Balkan nation's quiet peace. This time, however, there were no casualties, no refugees, no destruction. This time, it was only for show.
The show, however, had a serious message: A powerful, rapidly mobile reserve backs up NATO's peacekeepers. The Strategic Reserve Force is only a radio call away, ready and able to deal with any threat to Bosnia's stability. In early April, the multinational force showed friends as well as any potential challengers exactly what it can do.
Six nations joined forces in a live-fire combined arms exercise to cap Dynamic Response 1998, the first Strategic Reserve Force exercise held in Bosnia. The firepower display aimed to demonstrate the military might behind the international community's commitment to restore lasting peace.
Deploying the strategic reserve and demonstrating its capabilities sends a powerful message, said U.S. Army Gen. Wesley K. Clark, NATO's supreme allied commander Europe. "The peace will be kept, the agreement will be implemented and Bosnia-Herzegovina will rejoin the family of nations and be part of Europe," he said.
Clark traveled by helicopter April 3 to Bosnia's Glamoc Range, about 140 kilometers northeast of Split, Croatia, to witness the live-fire training. Along the way, the NATO commander passed abandoned villages and bombed-out farms ravaged by five years of civil war.
At the training site, Clark parlayed with Bosnia's top government officials and military leaders, as well as the foreign ambassadors and multinational military chiefs who came to see the strategic reserve in action.
About 5,000 troops from Italy, the Netherlands, Turkey, Poland, Romania and the United States make up the Strategic Reserve Force, which was formed in February 1997. NATO officials designed the mobile, flexible force of tanks, artillery, engineers, logistics components and air assets to augment the 32,000 stabilization forces in Bosnia, giving them the added strength to handle any contingency.
The United States contributes a 2,000-strong U.S. Marine Corps expeditionary unit, and its commander heads the reserve. Once in Bosnia, the force comes under the operational control of NATO's Stabilization Force.
"This is a force for peace, but it's capable of decisive action if challenged or, if need be, to help preserve the peace," Clark stressed.
Exercise Dynamic Response was designed to convey this message, as well as to test the multinational troops' soldiering skills, said U.S. Marine Gen. Peter Pace, commander, U.S. Marine Corps Europe. He was among the 200 or so observers gathered for the mock assault.
"This was a very important exercise because it let all of the forces of the strategic reserve come together and train on the ground," Pace said. "This is also an important statement by the international community that they are very committed to implementation of the peace process here in Bosnia-Herzegovina."
Russian Gen.-Lt. Anatoliy g. Krivolapov, Clark's deputy for Russian forces in Bosnia, was also at Glamoc. "This was very good and useful training," Krivolapov said through an interpretor. He said the multinational training reinforced what Russian forces have learned during joint peacekeeping operations in Bosnia.
"We are able to cooperate and work together -- not only NATO and Russia, but also the United States and Russia," Krivolapov said.
Deploying the strategic reserve into Bosnia took a great deal of planning and coordination, said U.S. Marine Corps Col. Emerson Gardner, who commands the 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit and the Strategic Reserve Force. Lessons learned during the deployment are used to update the outfit's operations plans, "so the next time, we come in on an even shorter timeline and are effective even sooner," he said.
Gardner expressed his pride in how quickly the force deployed and became militarily effective in Bosnia for the first time. "We integrated all these nations in a very dramatic exercise in a short amount of time," he said. "That shows you the beauty of having standardized procedures and doing all the detailed planning that went on ahead of time."
About 1,800 American Marines came ashore to train with about 1,000 multinational troops, Gardner said. Another 300 to 400 U.S. Marines and a couple thousand sailors at sea provided logistical support to the Marine expeditionary unit, he said.
Military leaders quickly worked through any interoperability problems encountered bringing the six nations' forces together, Gardner said. "One of the benefits within the Marine expeditionary unit is that we have air-naval gunfire liaison company teams with appropriate command and control equipment to provide linkage to the headquarters and allow these multinational forces access to NATO firepower," he said.
Stabilization Force units in Bosnia also participated, some traveling to Glamoc Range for the live-fire training. Staff Sgt. Myron Kennedy of Gillette, Ark., said that although his unit -- A Company, 1st Battalion, 35th Armor, Task Force 2/6 Infantry -- keeps up light intensity training, they don't often get a chance to do any high intensity [gunnery] training.
But, Kennedy said, the Bosnia mission makes the unit better because the armor soldiers learn patrolling techniques and other skills and get to work with other militaries.
Having the chance to do live-fire training during the Marines' six-month deployment was a "terrific opportunity," Gardner said. "One of the challenges when you deploy forces in an environment is that they come in at a very high state of readiness, but they tend to lose their edge," he said.
"We left the United States Feb. 28 and here we are, April 3, shooting a tremendous amount of ammunition, doing an integrated live-fire combined arms exercise. That gets our edge back. We're good to go," he said.
Only a top-notch fire support crew can pull off a live-fire combined arms display, Gardner remarked. Military staff at a coordination center behind the Glamoc viewing stands ensured timing was right for all the direct fire, indirect fire, attack helicopter assaults and aircraft flyovers, he said.
"A local reporter asked me, 'Are you surprised there were no casualties?'" Gardner said. "I said, 'No, I'm not surprised at all. This is our profession. This is what we do.'"
The self-sustaining Marine expeditionary force is trained to deploy to unfriendly lands, Gardner said. The unit is equipped with 15 days' supplies, including ammunition and maintenance support. The Bosnia mission, however, proved to be an eye-opener for many of the young Marines, he said.
"It makes it real for them," Gardner said. "A lot of them are 19 years old. They see things on TV. When you come out here and operate in it and they're walking around with live ammunition days on end -- it's real."
U.S. Marine Corps Sgt. Eric Oliphant of Blacksburg, Va., is a gunner aboard an Avenger anti-aircraft vehicle of the 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit. He said he thought "Great!" when he learned the unit was going to Bosnia.
"This is what we do," Oliphant said. "This is what we train for. We go anywhere they need us, anywhere in the world."
Along with practicing military tasks, the Marines also offered some humanitarian aid and, in return, got a glimpse of what life was like during the war. On the weekend, military dentists offered free treatment to nearly 100 children in the towns of Sokolac and Vitkovici.
"During the civil war, one of the commodities not available was toothpaste," Gardner said. "Children brushed their teeth with water and salt for a couple of years. My dentist said nine out of every 10 children he saw needed at least one permanent tooth pulled. This is quite a lot for 8- to 12-year-old kids."
It was quite emotional when a young boy arrived with his mother, who lost an arm in the war, Gardner said. A dentist treated the child by pulling two abscessed teeth. "He was not too happy, but he'll be happy later."