Bosnia Diary – Pg. 14

Green Bay to Bosnia LogoLocked Down in Olovo

11 Mar 96, Mon– Olovske Luke
Stavnja River, through Vares.
Stavnja River, through Vares.

Did the Monday Zenica-Vares-No Time to Get to Dastansko routine again today. I had the whole day’s routine plotted out ahead of time, even the extra ‘hey you’ missions that were tacked onto ours so we could get the requisite fourth vehicle. We could have actually gotten to Dastansko this week, but the people in the meeting with the Vares mayor dilly-dallied.

I had planned for a 2000 return to Olovo. We might have made it except we got caught in not one, but two traffic jams on the Vares-Olovo road. (The road is a one-lane at best.) The first in almost the exact same place as last week. The second further towards Olovo where switchbacks add backing up to passing on the list of impossibilities. We came head-to-head with a dump truck coming up the mountain. I was in the lead Humvee. The dump truck stopped just short of flattening us. Then the driver refused to back up. When he finally backed up, it was into a snow bank, so we spent an hour digging him out. SGT Smith, the Scout team leader was instrumental in getting us past the traffic jams.

There is a difference between being in charge and being responsible for something. A commander is responsible for everything that goes on in his command. The person in charge of something, is not only in charge of that thing but is also responsible for it. A good commander realizes that just because he is responsible for everything does not mean he has to take charge of everything. In fact, he, his subordinate leaders and his troops are alot better off if he doesn’t take charge of everything. Providing direction, then delegating tasks, lessens a commander’s considerable workload, breeds leadership in his subordinates and reduces the stress on his troops.

The power was out all day, so our PRC-127s didn’t recharge.

As I recall, we got lost near Vares. As there were mines all around, we used the new-fangled to GPS to figure our way out.
As I recall, we got lost near Vares. As there were mines all around, we used the new-fangled to GPS to figure our way out.
12 Mar 96, Tue– Olovske Luke

Today’s mission was to the Serb side of the ZOS. A major snow storm and high winds were predicted, so we took the long way north through Kladanj, east to Vlasenica, then south to Han Pijesak and Sokolac. There was a more direct route, but the Serbs had blown a bridge on Route Idaho. The ‘bridge’ was actually some fill on the side of a mountain, so blowing it made passage impossible. The bridge was just inside the Serb side of the ZOS, so they were within their legal rights in blowing it, but it was a move obviously aimed at harassing IFOR.

SOP is to have the heavy weapon at the two ends of the convoy. For reasons already discussed, I don’t think that is a good idea. As PL I prefer to be the lead vehicle, with the heavy weapon vehicle right behind me. That presents the ambusher with a dilemma: does he waste the lead vehicle first, bottling up the convoy but leaving the heavy weapon free to respond, or does he waste heavy weapon first, giving the lead vehicle a chance to exit the kill zone and allowing the other vehicles to stop before entering it? Besides which as PL it is my duty to lead, and I don’t feel that can be done from somewhere in the rear.

I made an exception today because I was unfamiliar with the roads south of Vlasenica and east of Olovo. It was a mistake.

Our heavy weapon vehicle was provided by the FIST. I let the FIST run point and they took off like a bat out of hell. Our SP wasn’t until 1000 and the roads between Olovo and CP 50 were still fairly clear of snow and ice, so I let them go. It was a mistake because we had only gone a few klicks when we ran into some M113s. Literally. Well almost. My convoy was just rounding a bend in the road, when I saw the APCs. I yelled “Track, track!” into the radio. The FIST slammed on the brakes and swerved to the right. A civilian car that had gotten between us almost rear-ended the FIST’s Humvee. The track commander, a sergeant, dismounted and reamed us — rightfully so. I told the FIST to slow it down and we proceeded.

Convoy on Route Mississippi.
Convoy on Route Mississippi.

Less than an hour later we were travelling east on Route Mississippi, approaching CP Sandra, when there was another incident. This time when we encountered a convoy of M113s we were travelling only 5 mph, but we were on sheet ice. When my driver tried to brake, we spun in the middle of the narrow road. We could have gone over the side of the road into the river, with the attendant chance of landing on a mine, or we could have been crushed by the APC that stopped five feet from our Humvee. Either outcome would have led to an unexpectedly short day.

Once we crossed over into Serb territory the roads cleared up. The terrain between Vlasenica and Sokolac was flat and open, so we made good time. We encountered some refugee traffic flowing north from Sarajevo, but not a whole lot.

After meeting with the Han Pijesak mayor we continued south to Sokolac. As we were entering Sokolac I saw a Serb tank towing an APC. I tried to get a picture, but by the time I got my camera out, it was too far away for a good picture. The turret was in the front of the tank and sported a big tube. It looked like a T-34/85. (Yes, the classic Soviet tank of World War II vintage, which the Serbs still use.) Even though they didn’t threaten us, and they were outside the 10 kilometer exclusion zone, I filed a SALUTE report.

We had called ahead to Sokolac before leaving Han P to let the mayor know that we would be by at 1500. We actually got there at 1508. The mayor had already left. We ended up waiting two hours just for him to show up, then the meeting lasted about thirty minutes. Being PL is enough work, so I didn’t go into the meeting, instead staying outside to help guard the vehicles.

Graffiti in Sokolac, Republika Srpska.
Graffiti in Sokolac, Republika Srpska.

A few kids gathered around, but nothing like on the Muslim side of the ZOS. There was no begging, no awkward attempts at communication, and a passing adult threatened to beat the kids if they didn’t disperse.

The wait was so long that I had to use the latrine. It’s a good thing I only had to piss. The latrine was the nastiest I’ve seen in Bosnia. Tiles were falling off the walls, live wires were hanging from the ceiling, shit was splattered all over, and open sewage was floating in the aisle. If there was no chance of someone wandering by, I would have stood in the hall and just pissed in the door.

Psyops volunteered to take point on the way back, because the team sergeant knew an alternate route that was shorter than the way we came and also bypassed the blown bridge. We got lost. We had another add-on mission (dropping a translator off at CP 54), so we didn’t get back until nearly 2300.

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