U.S. Visitors Observe Guardsmen in Peacekeeping Ops
By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service
TUZLA, Bosnia-Herzegovina, June 9, 2004 Civilian leaders from business, academia and local politics got a firsthand introduction to peacekeeping operations here today as they patrolled the streets of Banovici, Bosnia, alongside soldiers from Forward Operating Base Eagle.
Allen Sessoms, president of Delaware State University, left,
and other members of the 2004 Joint Civilian Orientation Conference join Army
Sgt. Kris King from the Indiana National Guard during a foot patrol near Tuzla,
Bosnia, June 9. Photo by Donna Miles
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
The civilians, all participants in the Defense Department's 2004 Joint Civilian Orientation Conference, accompanied members of the Indiana National Guard's 2nd Battalion, 152nd Mechanized Infantry, during patrols of the Bosnian countryside, both on Humvees and on foot.
The group received curious smiles and an occasional wave as they walked through the town of about 26,000 people. "It was great because there we were, walking the streets with armed soldiers and seeing some of the people smile as we passed," said Susan Adzick, a vice president for the McLane FoodService Division in Louisville, Ky. "The soldiers were walking with us and answering our questions, but it was obvious the whole time that they were very aware of what was going on around us."
Sgt. Kris King said the peacekeeping mission in Bosnia isn't hard just different from the traditional warfighting mission he and his fellow soldiers originally trained for. "What we do is basically public relations," he said. "You go out and deal with the Bosnian people. You get to know them, ask what they think about the SFOR (Stabilization Force) and find out what's going on."
Lt. Gen. William "Kip" Ward, deputy commander of U.S. Army, Europe, told the group the patrols are an important part of NATO-led Stabilization Force's mission to deter renewed hostilities in the region. U.S. troops have served in Bosnia-Herzegovina since 1995 to provide a secure environment as the country rebounds following the ethnic strife that left some 200,000 dead in the early 1990s.
Down from a high of 65,000 troops in the region in 1996, the U.S. military now maintains about 1,000 troops in the Multinational Division North sector, headquartered in Tuzla. Most are members of the Army National Guard.
In addition to helping prevent the return of violence to the former Yugoslavia, Ward said the U.S. presence serves another valuable purpose: "helping ensure that terrorists have no safe haven in this part of Europe."
Ward called the mission in Bosnia "a good news story" that he said "has brought stability and hope to the Bosnian people." But he emphasized that the story "is not over," reminding the civilian leaders that the peacekeeping mission remains important because the stability in the region "is not irreversible."
Staff Sgt. Randy Bakker, noncommissioned officer in charge of Task Force Eagle's explosive ordnance disposal detachment, showed the group concrete evidence of the mission's success: some of the 250 tons of weapons and munitions collected from the region during the past three months alone.
Ward called the former Yugoslavia, which once played host to many arms manufacturers, "a virtual arms depository" that he said continues to threaten the region's stability. Members of Task Force Eagle regularly collect "huge quantities" of these illegal weapons, he said, both through amnesty programs as well as house-to-house searches.
"We just want to get them off the street and make Bosnia safer," said 2nd Lt. Paul Karbley, a platoon leader for the 152nd Infantry's D Company, which has been deployed to Bosnia since March.
Karbley called the house-to-house searches "very low-tech," telling the group that soldiers on patrol often carry nothing more sophisticated than metal- detector wands and often resort to climbing through pigsties and digging through haystacks to find hidden weapons.
"The American fighting soldier is the best technology we've come up with yet," Karbley told the group.
In addition to the risks encountered during weapons searches, troops supporting the peacekeeping mission in Bosnia face other dangers. These include mines and unexploded ordnance that pepper the area and the most hazardous driving conditions in Europe, explained Chief Warrant Officer Allen Gotwald, the task force's safety officer. "It's critical that our soldiers maintain situational awareness at all times," he said.
Jeffrey Jacobs, one of the civilian leaders who visited Task Force Eagle and participated in the patrols, said the experience gave him a greater appreciation for the "skills and confidence of the soldiers and their passion about what they do."
Jacobs, a vice president for ChevronTexaco Technology Ventures, said it's easy for civilians with little or no exposure to the military to lose site of the qualities of the armed forces. "For a lot of people, all they know is what they read in the paper," he said. "Experiences like this give you a real appreciation of our military."
Joel Wernick, chief executive officer for Phoebe Putney Memorial Hospital in Albany, Ga., said he was particularly surprised and impressed -- to learn that the soldiers conducting his patrol weren't from the active Army. "If they hadn't told us, we never would have know that they were National Guardsmen," Wernick said. "You could have lined up 40 people and nobody would have guessed."
Wernick called his visit to Forward Operating Base Eagle, as well as earlier stops this week at Ramstein Air Base, Germany, and Andrews Air Force Base, Md., to observe military operations, an eye-opening experience.
"We have a really professional military," he said. "Seeing them do what they do makes you feel really proud. It also reminds you that you can't get freedom and the things many of us take for granted in life without some kind of investment and sacrifice."