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Italian Patrol into Zepa

By Sgt. Michael Maddox
First published in
SFOR Informer#102, December 6, 2000

Zepa - The first day at any job is always filled with many new experiences and one platoon from the Italian 72nd Alpine Company knows all about this. They found out just how busy the first day can get before they officially took their position in Rogatica Nov. 16.
The platoon, led by 1st Lt. Paolo Sandri, went on a familiarisation patrol to Zepa the day before they accepted patrol and security responsibility for the Rogatica area. The day was one to remember, said Sandri.
It began with a 1 hour and 30 minute drive on rocky, muddy roads to reach isolated Zepa. It was on the trip that the soldiers began to work rather than just make a tour of their new area.
“During the trip to Zepa, they found a man with two fingers injured that had been working with wood,” said Sandri. “They put him in their truck. He was very badly injured, there was a lot of blood. So they took him to his friends so he could be taken to the hospital.”
“Luckily they were doing this trip to Zepa. I think that if they weren't, the man would have been in a very bad situation. If they had not been there, this man could have died without help,” he added.
Besides patrols, the soldiers will also provide various forms of humanitarian aid and security in the area upon officially taking up their duties. One of those tasks for the Italian soldiers includes providing medical assistance.
“Everyday my doctor does a trip between the villages because it is very difficult for the people to get medical assistance. They are very far from hospitals or something similar,” explained Sandri. “My doctor goes to see them and gives them assistance. Sometimes, we give aid from Italy, like food as well as medicines.”
The Italian soldiers also provide security as international agencies do work in Zepa.
“We gave assistance here in Zepa where they found a mass grave. My guys normally will do the defence for the people while they are working to dig at the site. My guys just do the defence, no digging,” said Sandri.
The last thing the soldiers did during the tour of their AOR was to just get a feeling for the area.
“Everything is very much like it was five years ago,” said Sandri. “In the schoolhouse, the register was still there, destroyed by the rain and weather. The people here resisted until the end, July 24, 1995, the town was destroyed and everyone was killed.”
Even with such a tragic past, Zepa is a town that's back on the road to recovery.
“You can see the situation here. Normally in the north and south of Rogatica, you can find many villages like this with just a couple of tents and nothing else. These people have nothing except our aid,” he explained. “But the work on rebuilding continues.
“The people are probably going to spend the winter here in a real home, not a tent. The same people will come back because of that so we have good situation right now,” added Sandri.

Related link:
Nations of SFOR: Italy
SFOR at Work