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Stay Alert, Perry Advises Troops in Tazsar

By Linda D. Kozaryn
American Forces Press Service

TAZSAR AIR BASE, HUNGARY, Jan. 2, 1996 – The greatest threat facing service members in NATO's operation Joint Endeavor is complacency, according to the U.S. defense secretary.

"Keep focused, keep alert, and you'll get through this just fine," William J. Perry told service members supporting the mission at staging areas in Tazsar and in Kaposvar.

Perry and Army Gen. John M. Shalikashvili, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, visited Hungary to thank local officials for their support and to meet with troops and commanders.

About 6,400 U.S. troops are in Hungary, according to Army spokesma Capt. Mark Darden. Of those, about 3,600 are part of the national support force staying in Hungary throughout the year-long operation, and about 2,800 will be moving to Bosnia as part of Task Force Eagle.

Troops and equipment are arriving by train at a railhead in Kaposvar. Buses and about 12 aircraft a day are also ferrying troops into staging areas here. Units link up with their equipment and vehicles, and then convoy south to Bosnia, Darden said.

Support elements are from U.S. Army Europe's headquarters, V Corps, 21st Theater Area Army Command and 3rd Corps Support Command, he said. About six inches of snow have fallen since the operation got under way here, Darden said.

Overall, support operations are going well, according to Darden. "The weather hasn't slowed operations down completely, but we did have a few problems with it. The cooperation by the Hungarians has been wonderful," he said. "We're getting everything we need."

Snow flurries fell as Perry met with about 300 fatigue-clad service members in a temporary dining facility warmed by kerosene heaters on this Hungarian air base. He told the troops the operation has been successful so far due to the professionalism, dedication and hard work of the NATO forces and because the formal warring parties have complied with the Dayton agreement.

"This is a pretty good indication that they really want peace," Perry said. "They're sick of war, and they want to build a future for their children and their grandchildren."

While there is every reason to be optimistic, Perry said, the year ahead will be difficult and there will be risks. He thanked the troops for their part in bringing peace to Bosnia.

"Nothing happens in Bosnia that doesn't start here," Perry said. "Everything you're doing is crucial to what's going on in Bosnia. This is where it all begins."

Service members asked the Pentagon leaders about the Russian troops scheduled to join the U.S. division, pay issues and mine removal operations.

About 1,500 Russian troops are slated to join the U.S. division around Feb. 21, Perry told the troops. Their participation is important, he explained, because the Bosnia peace implementation force is the most significant security operation in Europe since World War II and "it's going to set the pace for future security operations in Europe for the indefinite future."

In response to a question, Perry said DoD is looking into whether service members pay will be tax-free during their tour in Bosnia.

Mine removal operations are going better than expected, Perry said. "The reason is because we are not the only ones removing the mines. The warring parties are doing that, and they're really working very hard at it, not only removing the mines but marking the minefields and providing us with information about them."

Removing the mines would be a difficult problem if left to U.S. and NATO forces alone, Perry said. The warring parties' cooperation is vital.

"Even so," he said, "we cannot be complacent on that problem. We must be very alert and very careful. It's the biggest single risk our forces have. Not that anybody is planting mines or trying to harass our troops, but just in the nature of accidents."

The countryside is littered with mines, and while information on their whereabouts is being provided and minefields are being marked, danger remains, Perry said.

"Any time you go on a new road, any time you go in a new area, you cannot assume," he warned. "Any time you go off the road there's a danger. Mine discipline is going to be key. Your training, your discipline are what's going to be necessary to work your way through this problem. There are lots and lots of mines in Bosnia."

During their three-hour stop at Tazsar, Perry and Shalikashvili visited Spc. John Begosh, the soldier seriously injured when a mine exploded beneath his humvee Dec. 30 while on a narrow country road.

The defense leaders are scheduled to visit Sarajevo and Tuzla Jan. 3.

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