Civil Affairs Team Bridges Language Gap

Green Bay to Bosnia LogoTASK FORCE BRCKO — As combat engineers work to repair a war-damaged span across the Sava River here, a civil affairs team is assisting the effort by bridging the gap between the military and the local civilian population.

The team, U.S. Army Reservists with the 432nd Civil Affairs Detachment from Green Bay, Wis., was sent to Bosnia-Herzegovina to assist the 23rd Engineer Battalion.

The engineers are helping rebuild a bridge in northeastern Bosnia that connects the Bosnian city of Brcko with the Croatian village of Gunja. The bridge was damaged in the war sometime during the winter of 1992.

The bridge is going to be important for both sides, not only (because of traffic considerations), but it also is going to allow some of the families that were separated during the war to be able to be reunited without having to do a lot of travel through different parts of the country, said Maj. Jay A. Clason, 43, the civil-military operation officer for the 23rd Engineer Battalion. “Many of them have gone four years without seeing their family members.”

Though the local people seem to support the rebuilding project, “there is uneasiness about it, because of what happened during the war,” Clason said. “They are concerned about what it will mean to them when it opens — who will control it and what it will mean for civilian traffic.”

It is part of the civil affairs mission to understand the local attitudes about military missions in their area and to form a communication link to facilitate dialogue.

The team has set up a civil military center in a small tent near the bridge, where people can come and ask questions.

The center does more than simply keep local people informed. Clason was able to refer a local engineer with questions about the project to the Army engineers. The man offered a copy of the bridge’s original plans. Through that contact, the engineers now have someone to answer questions about how the bridge was built.

Staff Sgt. James H. Koehler, 35, team noncommissioned officer-in-charge for the CA team, left his civilian job as a manager of a wine and spirits store to come to Bosnia.

“(We) coordinate the flow of information about civilians to the military and the military to the civilians,” Koehler said. “With (the) demolition, we have to think about the safety factor and the psychological effect of the explosion going off in an area that has seen conflict. So we’re helping coordinate the information about what’s going on with the demolition and make sure the populace is prepared for it.”

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By SGT Kelley C. Fischer
Task Force Eagle [1st Armored Division] Talon
March 22, 1996


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