8 April 1998 – Würzburg, Germany
Our accountability formation was set for 1330 with the afternoon devoted to all the usual activities one might expect before deploying for 90-180+ days. There were briefings related to safety, the convoy and arrival procedures. A portion of time was set aside for those last minute personal errands before drawing weapons meant no one went anywhere.
Following supper we loaded the Task Force into six buses and rolled at 1900. The first overnight stop is Taszar, Hungary which is a long drive in some not every comfortable seating. It only took till 2230, our first rest stop before the first problem arose. Bus #5 (of 6) broke down. Bus #6 stayed with it till a new bus arrived putting them at least 90 minutes behind everyone else.
9 April 1998 – Taszar, Hungary
Nothing like being woken up to go back to sleep – my entire thoughts about our 0310 rest break. The next bit of consciousness was on arrival at 0730. Prior to breakfast the buses had to be unloaded, all the gear distributed to the correct tents. Our final two buses pulled in at 1000.
So here we are, 124 people sitting in tents in the rain in Hungary. Everyone is present and accounted for.
The remainder of the day was devoted to more briefings: rules of the base, orientation schedule, roles of engagement and planning for the next stage of our trip. We are obviously alright and not overworked if I have time to write and the troops have time to go play ping-pong.
10 April 1998 – Taszar, Hungary
Where are we? Taszar, Hungary, a small town a couple hours south of Budapest. At the time you could barely find it on the map. The nearest major town is Kapsovar.
Besides those of us from the 67th CSH we have several other units which make up the Task Force. Late last night our ambulance unit arrived as well as the forward logistical team. Face it – we are medical providers. If we can’t get supplies or more patients we have a serious problem.
The weather was warm and we woke to sunshine. To the total amazement of the gate guards and the rest of the post, we went out for a 3 mile PT run at 0630. Since it was my pace – we did it for fun and everyone finished. Tazsar is a staging base. There is a stable population that moves troops and supplies. The rest of the base is composed of all the deploying and redeploying personnel and units. The last thing the permanent party personnel want to do is PT. Everyone else just ignores it in favor of drinking their last beer prior to the combat zone and General Order #1 (more on that later).
Not that I don’t have enough challenges on my plate – it is Passover. I am headed to Budapest for a Seder. The Chaplain has organized the trip. I don’t know what is going to be more interesting – trying to survive an orthodox service in Hebrew and Hungarian or trying to explain it to the Chaplain. He has never been to a Seder before and is REALLY excited. weather is beautiful – sunshine and warm winds.
11 April 1998 – Taszar, Hungary
Let me tell you about yesterday. While I was on my frolic and detour, my company commander that all training was accomplished, everyone ate and those looking for that last beer I mentioned yesterday …..
Meanwhile – the Chaplain and I had our frolic and detour. It started with the shuttle ride to the Taszar Main Base. The 4 km bus ride manages to include every last back corner, al the bus stops and turns the ride into 20 km in more than half a hour.
The vehicle fleet from which we drew our two vans for the trip consists of Ford 9-pax vans under lease for more than a couple of years. Saying it can be a rough ride is putting it mildly. Our route included back roads through several small towns, down a number of narrow roads. We passed horse drawn carts with their truck tire wheels, kids on bicycles, old people walking and a number of pre-unification oil burning small cars from the former East. Not surprisingly it took an hour to travel the 70km to the autobahn. The next 120 km took about 90 minutes.
We arrived at the Old Synagogue to find that it is still under renovation; not appearing much different than it did when I was last here in 1995. One courtyard features a memorial. another has a collection of grave markers and tomb stones. The Seder was held upstairs in the attached building. Think of a large open room with high ceilings. The Head Table was at one end with the Rabbi, Cantor, and important guests. The rest of the room was filled with dozens of small tables for four plus several longer tables for visitors at the back. There was a small Seder plate at each place. Let me just say it was interesting trying to follow the order. Hebrew accented with Hungarian does not sound like Hebrew accented with German or English. Hungarian falls into the category of “one of the thousands of languages about which I am clueless.” To cap off the fun – this was a “bring your own Haggadah” service; a fact that none of us knew a head of time. The whole evening was a challenge. For those of you whose Passover memories include children shouting and running, this was tame evening. Almost all in attendance were adults, many of whom were elderly.
It was about 2200 when we headed back to Taszar. Budapest was full of lights, people, and traffic. By the time we had driven 50km the roads were empty, the houses dark, little traffic and no one out. Since we didn’t arrive back until after midnight, 0600 came all too soon.
Today’s plan is PT with the rabbits going to distance and wind sprints while us turtles make circuits of the post. Then there is more training, another formation or five followed by
troops sitting in the beer tent – playing pool, cards, darts, hanging out and talking. There was, of course a meal or two. 8 days of Matzo – but who is counting!
12 April 1998 – Taszar, Hungary
For those of you who don’t pay any attention to the calendar – last night was the first Seder which makes today Easter Sunday (coinciding this year). This may explain why Kathy NW (the Commander of the Task Force remaining here in Taszar) and I were up at 0530 dropping off Easter baskets to our sleeping tents. It was all her idea. The week prior to departure we had gotten together for supper with out kids. We all spent a couple of hours stuffing goodies into plastic eggs. She found baskets in the local PX on Friday. Anyway – the bunny went out in the almost dark and dropped off baskets. We still have eggs left, lots.
She went to the sunrise Easter Service, I went back to bed. The service was moved into the chapel on account of rain. The 0800 formation was held in the rain. Perhaps I shouldn’t find it amazing to see how many can make it on time and find their poncho’s when the need arises. Since today was declared a down day the main events were the midday meal at the dining facility and the task force volley ball competition (TFME beat TF67).
At 1600, the wind is marking the tent flap like sails, the billowing woke me up from a nap. The sun is now out, with clouds racing across the sky, expecting rain at least once more before morning.
TF67 (those staying here in Hungary and commanded by Kathy) have split off . They are on a different orientation track and our schedules won’t coincide from here on. TFME (Task Force Med Eagle) will start deploying to Bosnia over the next several days. The first contingent heads downrange tonight. Property management and logistics are key to a successful turnover from the current unit. There are so many moving pieces/parts that it is scary. All our vehicles are here and painted with SFOR. We have kevlar blankets arranged for installation and our MILVANs identified. So I “know” that my sewing machine, thread, fabric, yarn and knitting needles have made it this far.
13 April 1998 – Taszar, Hungary
Last night the weather turned cold, almost icy with even stronger winds blowing through the night. It was one of those nights where heading to the port-a-potty 100 meters away seemed much smarter than traveling half way to the front gate just to watch a toilet flush. Both the soldiers arriving from Ramstein after leaving on an 0dark30 flight and the troops who left for Slav Brod yesterday arrived safely.
We were greeted this morning by warmer weather outside the tents than inside. Yes, we have heaters but local regulations, in spite of smoke detectors, require a fire guard to stay awake. Since there was no one who volunteered to baby sit the heater, we elected to snuggle into winter weight sleeping bags and ignore the cold.
For entertainment this morning the CSM (Command Sergeant Major) took those on profile to the Gym while the rest of us went on a Battalion run. Setting the pace, complete with full flag and streamers we ran (ok, jogged) from the front gate of the LSA (life support area) to the Air Force Passenger Terminal and back. Those who seemed too bored were invited to circle the formation at full speed while carrying the flag.
Sometimes I think the Army standard is to tell you the same information in as many ways as possible which may explain the rest of our morning of class and refresher training (ambulance loading, chemical protection and rules of engagement).
Fore shadowing what would become something between routine and a serious amount of work – it was VIP (Very Important People) Day. Since the senior visitor was GEN Shelton (Chief, JCS) along with GEN Shinseki the Dining Facility was serving excellent food, there were Press underfoot and an entourage (strap hangers). Me? not seen, not heard, thank you very much. I picked up mashed potatoes with marinara sauce and a bunch of fruit and bailed out of there as quickly as was possible.
Our afternoon seemed to be a reprise of the morning; substituting helicopters for ambulances. Luckily this had been planned for inside one of the helicopter clam shells as the skies opened for the fourth time today. With thunder, lightening and cold pouring rain you just can’t beat indoor training. Following the 1800 key leaders meeting it is dinner and packing time since we leave for Slovinski Brod, Croatia in the morning. The Log Train, which in this case is trucks and flatbeds with our MILVANS and vehicles, will also leave in the morning but go straight through to Tuzla.
The evening turned into “turn off the computer” weather complete with chain lighting, thunder loud enough to be felt in the floor boards and dropping temperatures. I am hoping the driving sleet and rain doesn’t freeze.
14 April 1998 – Slovinski Brod
A formation at 0630 for weapons draw seemed early after a night so cold you could see your breath in the tents. Given that we promptly loaded onto our buses there wasn’t enough time for serious whining. Of course the ammo is in a different location necessitating a separate stop on the way out. I don’t sleep well on buses, but then I don’t think too many people do. There are rematches of card games which started on the first leg of our journey. There are always charades if things get too boring. Our convoy also includes MP (military police) vehicles in front and behind our four busses complete with blue lights rotating. I just love light flashing in my face. These four old diesels buses are the best of what is left, I guess. Two are double deckers (mine and the third bus. The other two are coaches packed full of rucksacks and duffel bags in addition to the passengers. Oh yes, we also had a small truck and one trailer tagging along.
Our journey is south to the border with Croatia, stopping to change escorts at the holding area. While we sit and wait for our new escorts, our log train pulls in. We wait some more. The log train moves out but not before two of the NCOs grab snacks and sodas from one of the HMMV’s. They had stored emergency snacks – just in case. Why they picked my vehicle is beyond me, but they were kind enough to offer a soda.
We sit and wait. We wave to the 261st which is heading north. Their equipment and vehicles will be shipped back to Ft Bragg. They are a bunch of happy soldiers. By taking convoy duty they are getting a break. The really long haul over the road will be rewarded by access to the beer tent at Taszar. They leave. Finally our escort comes in and we are on the move again. The route is something like cross the river, get on the autobahn, go here, go there, cross the river several more times for good measure and arrive about 16:30.
There is just enough time to unload and assign tents prior to supper. It is a quiet evening. There is no beer here. We are below the beer line and General Order #1 applies. More on that one on another day – but it is the basic list of what you can and can’t do. There is also laundry. The laundry is open till 2200 and pickup starts at 0730. It will be nice to have some clean clothes.
15 April 1998 – On the Road
Today dawned crisp and clear. Really crisp as a matter of fact with a layer of frost on everything in this tent city for transients. Rows of tents with plywood and braced floors, a few poles with strung lights and boardwalks which are literally boards, connecting everything. So we have tents, the 24 hour tent, the gym, the latrines, the showers. If you head toward the rest of the post your feet have to touch pavement for a few feet of road before returning to the planks. I remember this as being a sea of mud two years ago.
This mornings PT was by duty sections. It didn’t take me long to reconfirm that I hate stair steppers and picked an exer-cycle as an alternative. I hate them as well. Given a choice, CNN is more interesting than the new characters on Sesame Street but I would rather skip TV while exercising.
Received permission for a group my doctors and nurses to take a tour of the regional Croatian Medical Center. They came back extremely impressed. The hospital has more up to date equipment than we do.
Also looked at the local aid station/clinic that will be falling under our taskforce. Like Wolverine LSA, it is outside the “fence” of the main area. Current staffing is from a company out of Ft Bragg. many will be headed home in the next month. During this same time – we are looking at relocating their operation and the operation here will downsize.
Had a meeting with the TaskForce Pershing Commander this afternoon. talked over a lot of the medical issues. LTC Gary Sadlon
came in for the meeting. I think we learned more about some of the local politics than we really wanted to know. the mayors from the cities across the rivers won’t talk to each other – one is hard line Serb the other Croatian – takes a while to realized how deep the anger is running around here.
as the one general said a couple of years ago – there are the bad guys, and the bad guys and the bad guys. not many good guys around this area.
The area we are staying in is otherwise known as the tank farm. An industrial complex that use to employ 17000 people and now still have 3000 coming in on a daily basis. Bullet holes in a lot of walls, lots of the complex pretty well shattered. Not sure all of what went on here – but some of it was military manufacture – which is why it was such a target.
this evening we ran the first of a series of after action reviews deigned to figure out how to do things better. amazingly got a lot of good ideas – and minimal amount of whining. Last class of the day is now running on SAW’s
we head out in the morning – formation at 06:30, followed by buss load and roll about 9. we should be there by mid afternoon.
If you want to look on a map – take a look at the former Yugoslavia. Either that or find Austria and Hungary and look south on the east side of the Adriatic. at this point we are just on the north side of the Sava River. Spelling change around as well – and I may not be using the current accepted what ever.
April 16 1998, Operation Joint Guard
It is now almost midnight of a very long day. We had our first formation at 6:30 – let people head off for breakfast. Our transportation arrived about 8:00 – old beat up really ragged busses. not thrilled to say the least. also had a couple of small trucks for gear or we never would have survived.
loaded up everyone and everything – escorts arrived and we finally hit the road at 10:00
If you are starting to get the idea that a lot of the military can be “hurry up and wait” – that is the essence of a lot of operations.
From Slavonski Brod – we headed to the Sava to cross. During the war – all the bridges were taken out – this is the replacement bridge for the pontoon bridge that was laid in Dec 1995.
bridges is steel bar – bolted together engineer construction. on top of the remains of the old bridge and single lane. Constant repair and maintenance from SFOR keeps it open.
Crossing the river took us into the Republic of Srbska. The change was dramatic – almost all the buildings within site of the river were bombed out. After going through part of the city – we finally hit an area where there was construction going on. then we passed into an area that could have been any former eastern country – slab construction, square buildings. drab, really colorless.
the roads are narrow and there is a fair amount of traffic, edges and sidewalks are non existent.
As we passed out of town – it was through another area of bombed out houses. The original construction for most of these houses was red brick. As people got more money – the houses were then stucco’d over.
The houses that we passed were empty shells, no roofs. Blown off. No windows, blow out. no frames, doors, trims, all gone. The method of ethnic cleansing in this area was to drag a family out, and grenade the house afterwards, ensuring that the house was no longer a home and was completely unlivable.
Some of the damage we saw was long enough ago to have trees growing inside the houses. As we traveled, it was apparent that some of the areas were completely destroyed, maybe one house of ten still even standing, where the next town might be completely intact.
Many of the towns were undergoing massive reconstruction, I couldn’t help but wonder if people were repairing their own houses, or one that they had appropriated.
Yugoslavia before the war was poor, not as much as Albania, but truly poor and not very urbanized. It is now devastated. Years of construction will be needed to even get a minimal standard of living. Most heat is obviously wood at this point. Any house with occupants had its laundry hanging out.
Then again, there were a few beautiful homes, complete with satellite dishes. Wonder which political or military boss was living there, since it had survived with no damage.
passed homes bombed out with fruit trees still blooming in the front and back yards. Saw homes with plastic for doors and windows with a full front garden of tulips. Horses pulling plows in the fields, people hand seeding the fields. Kids, looking like kids everywhere, pushing and shoving along the road home from school. The younger children smile and wave, the older ones turn their backs.
South of Doboj we passed back into Bosnian-Muslim territory. After crossing the ZOS the differences again were apparent. The ZOS is essentially the line drawn at the end of the war. it is completely bombed out. no one living there – but everyone dumping trash. An area where burned out vehicles have been pushed off the side of the roads down ravines to rust.
After a long an tiring three hours – we arrived in Tuzla and came around the mountain ridge to Guardian Base/Blue Factory. Home for the next six months.
Bunch of people standing and waving off the roof of the nearest building. Others all out and waving. We got warmly greeted, helped with unloading bags, gear, ammo.
dropped off my stuff with Kris Campbell, the commander of the current hospital and one of two people I am replacing. got a late lunch, talked to a number of people, had another formation.
Mail call. one of those wonderful army institutions that has almost disappeared. We have gone to community mail rooms, mail boxes and quality but impersonal service. Here – our mail was waiting – and a lot of people had mailed themselves boxes. Did the 1st class mail up front – the clerk just read out names and people grabbed their mail. By five minutes into the process, people were cheering and joking when someone got “more mail?!?!” and we got all the packages out of the way and into a locked milvan to deal with after we are moved in.
Since we have just added 120+ to the location, room and space are kind of at a premium and most won’t get a permanent living assignment until 396th
wheels up on next wednesday or more people from the 261st also leave.
I will be taking over Kris’s container, so I am bunking in with her for now.
I think I will save a bit more on the camp and structure for tomorrow since this is getting pretty long and it is late.
The evening was taken up with introductions and some briefings, then I got caught up in a series of “just a minutes” which lasted 2 1/2 hours before I was done.
We are up at 6 to finish issuing ammo and the first meeting with the full staff is 0815. so I am going to wind down.