Bosnia Diary – Pg. 17

Green Bay to Bosnia LogoLocked Down in Olovo

15 Mar 96, Fri — Olovske Luke

CPT Ponkratz woke us up this morning, saying he needed us to go into town with him. I looked at my watch — 0310. “Why?” I asked. A roving patrol had caught a someone looting one of the houses inside the far end of our perimeter. When they tried to stop the looter, he opened fire. They fired back, but he escaped. One soldier was slightly wounded. So Ponkratz and CPT Fellinger were going to go into town to warn the police chief and local military commander. While we were out, we stopped by the hospital to ask the staff to report to us if anyone checked in with bullet wounds. Despite the distinct possibility of a revenge shooting, they did not want to wait until we could get a scout to escort us. Nor did they want to let the CI and Psyops guys know about the threat. (They live in a house down in that area.) I went along because I have an M-16 and two captains with pistols are a walking target. (SP4 Haas and SGT Argetsinger have M-16s, but if there were an ambush they would be too busy driving to return fire.) On this convoy I was the heavy weapon.

Didn’t get a shower because CPT Ponkratz volunteered as convoy fodder for an engineer mission to replace the bridge on Route Idaho, thus depriving us of the second vehicle necessary for travelling within Olovo.

GEN Joulwan was here today, so I stayed inside my tent. When I had to go out I steered well clear of the TOC. I don’t like all the sycophancy that attends generals’ visits. Besides, if he were to ask me how I was doing I would have to tell him the truth.

Got really depressed and didn’t do a damn thing the rest of the day.

Hospital built into hillside north of Olovo to avoid Serb shelling in town.
Hospital built into hillside north of Olovo to avoid Serb shelling in town.
16 Mar 96, Sat — Olovske Luke

CPT Ponkratz is a good shmoe, but he’s an optimist and I’m a pessimist. Another day with no mission, so he was out trying to arrange for a concert to ‘bring the factions together’. He seriously wants to get people like Michael Jackson to volunteer their time and money to not only perform, but produce the concert. He thinks that by offering them the royalties from the album, film and souvenirs they’ll go for it — obviously not realizing the years and years of legal wrangling that often preceeds the release of those items. (The “Woodstock” movie was out of circulation for twenty years because of infighting over the royalties.) The fighting won’t end until the Croats, Serbs and Muslims want it to end. Holding hands and singing “Kumbaya” might feel good, but it won’t accomplish a damn thing. An all-star benefit concert has never ended starvation or poverty. If “Hands Across Bosnia” isn’t mission creep, what is?

Got three letters today. The mail is flowing, but that is only because pressure has built up in the pipeline — it is not flowing any quicker. (Two of the letters took five weeks to get here.)

A small likelihood of capture does not excuse the fact that those yahoos have hung out to dry any troop unlucky enough to be captured for the immoral return of scoring a few political points.

Ruins in Olovo.
Ruins in Olovo.
17 Mar 96, Sun — Olovske Luke

Took one last trip up to 2BCT before I leave on Wednesday. I passed around a huge sausage and two blocks of cheese. No factory produced crap that — it was all made fresh on a farm in Denmark, WI. They disappeared most rapidly. Said goodbye to all the good folks there: SFC Coyle, SFC Poh, SSG Buelow, SGT Zunker, SGT Zimmerman, SP4 Levanetz, CPT Miller (Scott-type) and SP4 Brink. (It made my day when she gave me a hug.) :-)

Apparently two soldiers accidentally swapped M-16s, resulting in one being ‘lost’ for almost an hour. So now everyone in 2/68 Armor has to have a dummy cord tied to their weapon. CPT Ponkratz asked MAJ Lucas if that wasn’t like giving everyone chemotherapy because one person has cancer. He has an excellent point, but apparently MAJ Lucas didn’t appreciate the comment.

Another interesting tidbit from VFW: It seems that the U.S. has twice before been involved in Balkan interventions, once after each world war. The 332nd Infantry Regiment occupied Dalmatia from November, 1918 to March, 1919. (Dalmatia is the strip of Croatia that separates Bosnia from the Adriatic Sea.) U.S. forces also occupied portions of Slovenia from May, 1945 to October, 1954. (At the time, Trieste was considered the “trigger city of Europe” due to competing claims by Yugoslavia and Italy.) In neither case did U.S. intervention bring peace to the region or prevent a future U.S. involvement.

Train near Olovo. It didn't take the Bosnians long to get it up & running.
Train near Olovo. It didn’t take the Bosnians long to get it up & running.

Lest anyone think this U.S. involvement in the Balkans will end anytime soon, the last deployment I was involved in is still ongoing: A new commanding general was just appointed for Operation Provide Comfort. (The operation started as a relief effort for the Kurds and now involves flying permanent air cover over northern Iraq.) In fact, the new commander is the first to be given permanent orders — all others were assigned on a temporary basis.

If the IFOR mission is to “achieve public confidence in the transition from IFOR to the host nation [Bosnia]”, then it is doomed to failure. No one here trusts the other sides and they never will. Sarajevo is a perfect example: The Serbs demonstrated their lack of trust by evacuating their suburbs and the Bosnian government justified that lack of trust by allowing Muslims to loot the suburbs and harass the few Serbs who remained. The Muslims, for obvious reasons, do not trust the Serbs either. I think the real mission of IFOR — or at least the unstated U.S. mission — is to allow the Bosnian government enough time to re-arm, re-train and re-organize so it can fight the Serbs on an even footing.

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