Lonely post in... Dubrovnik

Lt. Philippe Mouret
First published in
SFOR Informer#134, March 14, 2002

The Military Air Transit situated in Dubrovnik-Cilipi International Airport is a little French Air Force post. Its mission is to handle the air transit of SFOR Troop Contributing Nations' military and civilian passengers, planes and helicopters.

Dubrovnik - The Military Air Transit (Escale aérienne militaire, EAM) located on more than 709 square metres of the Dubrovnik-Cilipi International Airport is a "lonely" French detachment, with only six permanent people: four from the Air Force (the EAM itself) and two from the Military Post Office (bureau postal militaire, BPM) No 651.
Isolated but handling many people
The EAM hierarchy is under the command of Mostar Air Detachment (Détachement air, DETAIR), commanded by Col. Jean-Marie Kosinski, and under the operational control of the Multinational Division Southeast (MND-SE) G1 and G4 Air Transit Offices. Its mission is to insure the transit for SFOR planes and helicopters, French as well from others nationalities, and to provide for military and civilian SFOR passengers.
Capt. Manuel Da Silva, Transit Chief, has wide-ranging responsibilities: "I must check that the air transport rules and procedures are followed, and maintain good relations with Dubrovnik airport services… The EAM is a little unit, perfect cohesion must be maintained and problems have to be solved before they degenerate."
The activity is very irregular. Some weeks, there are no aircraft for seven days and other weeks, during relief time, there can be 15 in rapid succession. In 2001, the EAM dealt with 300 aeroplane movements, carrying 13,582 passengers and 620 freight tonnes.
Team work
When a flight is planned, the freight, coming from Sarajevo or Mostar, is received the day before. Administrative documents are checked, the freight goes through X-ray, is put on pallets or in containers, weighted and stored till take off. WO2 Thierry Mappa, freight cell chief, is responsible for strategic plane freight, on the heavy carrier Airbus A310 and the Mc Donnell Douglas DC 8. His most important work is to balance the plane, that is to say, to optimise the weight's distribution inside. His pilot trusts him. "In France, we are part of a team," he explains, "here we make decisions alone."
Staff Sgt. Thierry Croibier is the deputy of Mappa and responsible for tactical plane freight: mainly C-160 Transall and C-130 Hercules. He underlines: "We must work as a team. From the security point of view we can't do a loading alone. Everybody's abilities must be known in order to trust and to delegate responsibilities." At each air rotation the two Air Force non-commissioned officers receive the support of four soldiers from the Mostar EAM 1st Paratroopers Transport Regiment, specialising in air projection support. "I already knew the material but it allows younger soldiers to gain experience and to work with others forces," said Sgt. Stéphane Izak. He teams up with paratroopers Privates Teddy Xavier, Lionel Detour and Antony Rhetat.
Security concerns
Passengers are asked to report two hours before the plane lands. They attend a briefing from the Transit Chief about boarding procedures and security orders. Two French Military Policemen, who arrive the day before to check the freight, also put hand bags through the X-ray machines . "The provost marshal guarantees everybody's individual rights and conventions signed with Croatia," explained WO2 Emile Heckly, Ploce provost unit commander.
Sgt. Fabienne Massondo is in charge of the passengers. She does the reception, checks their passports and takes them to the civilian international area. There, the Croatian Police and Customs check travellers, documents and luggage again. This is specific to Dubrovnik airport in contrast to Sarajevo and Mostar: there is a double chain, first a military one, and then a civilian one. In this respect, Ms. Milica Bratos, an interpreter, plays a very important role in keeping a good relationship with the airport. "We can't make any mistakes, because rigorous security is needed," insists Massondo.
After the landing, the arriving passengers are received. Formalities are rapid, they are driven by bus and they immediately join their units. At the same time, the leaving freight is loaded as soon as the arriving freight has been unloaded. The papers of the inbound freight are checked and it is immediately re-packaged in containers to be taken by the detachments, which have come to receive it.
Mail importance
Mail parcels travel with the freight, both incoming and departing. The mail is very important for soldiers far from home. Sgt. Ronan L'Hostis is the BPM 651 chief, Lance Cpl. Jérémie Raguenez his deputy. The office performs all classic operations: mail and parcel sending and reception, financial operations… However, the job is done for the benefit of very few people on the site: the six permanent members of the Transit team and the 16 French signallers in Trebinje. On the other hand, the postal volume going each day through Dubrovnik is huge. Six times a week the BPM receives 20 large priority mail bags and sends back the same amount in a civilian plane. Slow parcels travel by military plane.
The Dubrovnik EAM, isolated and small in size, sees all year long a lot of people and units passing by. Its efficiency depends on co-operation, co-ordination and the professionalism of everyone in the team.

Related links: SFOR at Work
Nations of SFOR: France

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Photos: PO Andy Gedge

Sgt. Stéphane Izak (right) and his team unload a Transall.


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As soon as the plane is unloaded, the paratroopers start to re-load it.


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Capt. Manuel Da Silva, Air Transit Chief, briefs the leaving passengers.


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The departing passengers arrive in the international area.


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French Sgt. Fabienne Massondo, from EAM, deals with the passengers.


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Sgt. Ronan L'Hostis (first plan), BPM (French Post Office) 621 chief, and his deputy Lance Cpl. Jérémie Raguenez.


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The Transall is ready to be unloaded.