Harvest time in Bosnia-Herzegovina

Sgt. Thomas Farley Jr.
First published in
SFOR Informer#154, December 19, 2002

It's "Harvest" time in Bosnia and Herzegovina, and for the men of Apache Troop, the term "Bag Lady" has suddenly taken on a whole new meaning. Apache Troop A, 1st Squadron, 104th Cavalry is fully engaged in the weapons collection phase of Op Harvest, going door-to-door in the towns and villages, close to the Croatian border.

Tolisa - The concept of the operation is to give the population an opportunity to voluntarily surrender illegal and unwanted weapons and munitions.
Somebody's grandmother
So far, the 'crop' has been plentiful and the cooperation of the townspeople has occasionally been astonishing.
"If it's happened once, it's happened a dozen times," explains Spc. Paul Miller. "A little old lady will shuffle down the path from her house with a shopping bag. She'll put it on the ground near the street, make a dismissive gesture with one hand and tell our interpreter she doesn't need this stuff anymore. We'll look into the bag and find a bunch of machine gun ammunition and hand grenades. Amazing! This isn't some partisan warrior who just woke up. I'm talking about somebody's grandmother."
Troop Commander Eric E.L. Guenther Jr., believes the phenomenon makes perfect sense. "Beyond the numbers and necessities, there's a human perspective to peacekeeping. Our Active Harvest efforts are an important part of what we can do to help them achieve the future they want."
No longer reluctance
Throughout the country, and especially in areas where 'ethnic cleansing' was perpetrated with murderous consequences for men, women and children of all he region's cultural traditions, there has been a reluctance to surrender weaponry stashed away in barns, haystacks and basements. "What happens," many citizens wondered, "if the Americans leave? What if the war comes again?"
Clearly, though, the tide of fear is changing. Guenther is delighted but not surprised. "One clear impact of years of active SFOR presence, and the peace that has prevailed as a result, is that all of these illegal weapons have become more of a liability than a means of self-defense. One of the most common manifestations of the Harvest we see is the parent who presents us with a bag full of explosive devices."
In the village of Tolisa, Staff Sgt. Nick Bowden and his squad were approached by a shy but determined five-year-old named Djuro Dedic. "I have weapons," the boy told the squad's interpreter, Hasan "Hansy" Sakic.
When a dismounted element followed the boy to his home, he darted inside and soon reappeared with a fearsome arsenal of machine guns, rifles and pistols - all made entirely of plastic.
"This kid had listened to his parents and grandmother talking about the harvest," said Bowden. "It was his own idea to turn in his guns to make the village safe, and he was damned proud of his decision."
A perfect win-win solution
In Gradacac, Sgt. Peter Cachion was searching for a solution to the problem of distributing posters and flyers promoting Op Harvest. In a stroke of genius, he visited the Hasan Kikic High School and asked the principal if his students could help. The principal, Halil Hasanovic, responded enthusiastically.
"It turns out that the students there had performed a similar service for a mine awareness program through a relationship they had with an earlier SFOR rotation," Cachion said. "They even have an individual assigned to coordinate this kind of activity. For the Harvest operation, it's a perfect win-win solution."
"It's all about relationships," concluded Sgt. 1st Class Bevan Cummin, platoon sergeant. "The success of our efforts - peacekeeping in general and this weapons harvest in particular - rides on our ability to form real relationships with the people, based on mutual respect."

Related links:
Nations of SFOR: US
Project Harvest

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Photo: Sgt. Thomas
Farley Jr.

Spc. John Bansemer, Apache Troop, and a Polish Airborne Regiment soldier admire an SKS rifle which, though not representative of the latest firearms technology, is in pristine condition.


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Photo: Spc. John Bansemer

A Polish Airborne EOD team tapes grenades and prepares other munitions for shipment.


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Photo: Spc. John Bansemer

Apache Troop Executive Officer 1st Lt. Law Field inspects a mortar collected during Harvest Operation.