Locked Down in Olovo
2 Mar 96, Sat — Olovske Luke
The headquarters of 2/68 Armor is in a truck repair facility in Olovske Luke, a village a few klicks east of Olovo. There was quite a snow storm while we put up our tent. Actually, the storm started last night — with two inches in the first hour — but it continued all the way through this evening. An interpreter back in Ðurðevik said the snow storm two weeks ago was the last of the year, but then we are about 300 meters higher in altitude here. We got about six inches altogether.
Despite the snow, things are much better here. Well, except for the mess hall which is understaffed, undersized and undersupplied. The facilities are … well, they actually have facilities here. The hard stand makes all the difference in the world, there’s no mud. None. My boots are actually clean, or at least mud free. I don’t feel like I’m lugging around Frankenstein boots.
We drove through Olovo on our way to a mineral hot spring that the 96th CA had dug up for a shower point. The building that housed the spring was cold and drafty, but the shower felt good. All that was missing was a post-shower Swedish massage.
Olovo is in a very narrow valley in a very mountainous part of Bosnia, just north of Sarajevo on the main highway to Tuzla. The area is thinly populated and rather desolate. The fighting was heavy here, so the area is even more thinly populated and desolate than usual. Olovo is in bad shape. Nearly all the buildings have been damaged: most have been tattooed by bullets, many are missing roofs and windows. Olovo is abandoned because the Serbs vacated the area rather than live under Bosnian government rule. They even dug up their departed ancestors rather than let them rest in enemy territory.
That was in December, right after the Dayton Accord was signed. At the time I said the same thing would happen in the Serb suburbs of Sarajevo. The newspapers — with typically myopic, hand-holding, teaching-the-world-to-sing, feel-goodism — thought they would stay. But I put myself in the shoes of the locals: guilt by association. If I was a Muslim whose friends and family had been ethnically cleansed by the Serbs, I would not be too particular about which Serbs I would take it out on. And if I was a Serb I would not want to risk the safety of my family on the possibility that the Muslims would not take undeserved revenge on me. And so it has come to pass: 50,000 Serbs are in the process of fleeing Sarajevo.
3 Mar 96, Sun — Olovske Luke
Had our Sunday convoy to 2BCT near Vlasenica. This time though we went with CPT Ponkratz’s CA team, CI and Psyops. The 2/68 chaplain tagged along so we could drop him off at a base along the way. When we got to Kladanj we kept going north, rather than turning east towards Vlasenica. The radio immediately started crackling with “Where are you going?” and “Why didn’t we turn?” messages. Another convoy had gotten mixed in with ours somewhere along the way and the chaplain had followed them instead of our lead vehicle. And we couldn’t stop him because he didn’t know how to use his radio. Eventually we got joined up with the rest of the convoy, but not after going about 5 klicks out of our way.
On the way back from Vlasenica, the Psyops guys played music on their loudspeaker. So there we were, travelling through the canyons and villages of Bosnia listening to Steve Miller, “Run to the Hills” by Iron Maiden, “Sweet Home Alabama” by Lynyrd Skynyrd and “Ride of the Valkyries” at landslide causing levels.
4 Mar 96, Mon — Olovske Luke
Travelled over the mountains to just north of Sarajevo, through Visoko to Zenica. The drive to Sarajevo was extremely icy, and we slipped all the way down the mountain pass. The villages along the highway were mostly abandoned. In Zenica, the captains met with some UNHCR people, while the rest of us ate in the UN cafeteria. The pizza was different, but tasty.
Then we went back through Visoko to Vares. The northern part of Visoko was totally trashed — the area had obviously been heavily shelled. While the captain’s met with the mayor of Vares, the rest of us schmoozed with the locals. I didn’t find out anything useful, but one guy who’d been a driver in the Bosnian army told me, “You’re president … he is a great man.” I didn’t have the heart to tell him the truth.
After Vares, we drove to the 2/68 mortar platoon a few klicks to the northeast to refuel. 500 hundred meters of the drive was through a tunnel that looked like it had been hand-chiseled a few hours earlier. The road surface hasn’t been smoothed and water has seeped through the ceiling to create some spectacular ice formations. The mortar platoon was out of fuel so we drove on to Olovo. The road was little more than a trail through the woods, but it was a stunningly beautiful postcard journey.
The 2/68 banned visits to the translators’ tent. When we were at the quarry, we not only visited their tent, they invited us over for apost-Ramadan feast. We in turn had them over to our place on a regular basis to play chess. Is the 2/68 afraid that troops and translators are matter-antimatter?
5 Mar 96, Tue — Olovske Luke
Boot knives have been outlawed. Hmmm … I thought “Force Protection” was the be-all, end-all of this mission. Doesn’t extra armament lend to that protection? What’s the reason for outlawing boot knives, uniformity? Oh, silly me, the knives are being outlawed to protect us from stabbing ourselves in the calves!
6 Mar 96, Wed — Olovske Luke
Power outtages seem to be pervasive here. Even though there are not one … (laughing) … you won’t believe this. Just as I was typing this, it went out again! Anyway, there are not one, but two, 100Kw generators … (out) … right … (out again) … next to our tent. I don’t think they are using them because at $450,000 per that would be a serious rip-off. We are running off a 30Kw behind the maintenance building. Yesterday there were two outtages of about three hours apiece. Today there have been over a dozen of between five seconds and 60 minutes.
Bright Idea du Jour: Round counting. It seems that the battalion commander has enough time on his hands to be pulling police call, and in the course of his journey he found a few 5.56mm rounds scattered hither and yon. This of course cannot be tolerated! So now we have to count bullets every day. Why? The locals are armed to the teeth. They don’t need to scrounge bullets from the ditch to cause trouble.
So, now we have an underemployed lieutenant colonel to go with the underemployed brigadier general pulling gate guard. What next, senior NCOs with latrine detail? Oh wait, I’m not being rhetorical — that really is happening …
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