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Make yourself at home

By Maj. Richard C. Sater
First published in
SFOR Informer#121, September 5, 2001

Six days a week, soldiers and airmen from Eagle Base patrolled Tuzla, using the Civil-Military house at 38 Klosterska Street as the rally point. This year alone, the house assisted over 170 families, according to Col. Chuck Stutts, assigned to the 11th Civil Military Co-operation (CIMIC) Battalion and the commander of the house operation - a vital part of the Stabilisation Force mission. The house closed its doors at the end of July.

Janja - Every military unit works with civilians. War is a military concern, but so is the end of the war - what comes after the fighting has stopped. The primary task is to get the civilian society functioning again, so SFOR co-ordinates military activities with local communities and encourages their co-operation. The safe and secure environment ensured by SFOR is the daily life of the citizens of Bosnia and Herzegovina.
Although the Tuzla house has closed, the CIMIC mission will continue. It is, however, changing to meet the changing times. Another coalition partner in SFOR will assume the responsibility: Finland.
Finnish responsibility
With the Aug. 8 inactivation of the 11th CIMIC Battalion, the Finnish CIMIC Company stands well-equipped and ready to take up the mission in Multinational Division-North. The unit recently held a ribbon-cutting ceremony to celebrate the opening of its newest CIMIC house, located in the city of Janja. Three other facilities - in Bijeljina, Bratunac, and Modrica - indicate the Finns' commitment to the cause. The houses are open for business, and the Finnish company - about 40 strong - extends an invitation to the citizens of this country: come in and make yourselves at home. The houses serve a dual purpose: providing a non-threatening environment for local citizens to interface with SFOR and other civil authorities, and functioning as a routing agency to direct local citizens to the assistance they need. "As part of SFOR, and as a CIMIC asset for the Commanding General of MND-N, we are trying to help the country get back on its feet. Returns are a big issue in this country," says Company Commander Maj. Juhani Raanto. "It's very important to help people get back in their homes."
Assessing the needs
The unit's primary tools are the houses and local presence patrols, which help the soldiers keep track of the pulse of the communities. The company also works closely with other units assigned to MND-N. Information collected by patrolling troops helps to determine how the unit will allot its funds for humanitarian aid.
Capt. Oula Lahti, a returns officer with CIMIC, believes the mission is very important. "After war, there is a time for reconstruction," he says. "I feel very good to have the opportunity to be an SFOR soldier and to work with the locals. The task is very challenging. We have noticed that we can't do this work alone." Raanto agrees: "Co-operation is the key word here."
Capt. Jussi Lankinen, company public relations officer, believes that the team has established a good rapport with the local authorities, the Russian regiment, the U.S. task forces, and other organisations from the International Community.
Positive response
One reason why the citizens of Bosnia and Herzegovina have responded positively to the company's efforts is because of Finland's history, Lankinen believes. "We had our own civil war in 1918, and we had 500,000 displaced persons and refugees after the Second World War," he says. The Bosnians know they have a kindred spirit in the Finns. "They recognise the flag," Lankinen says, pointing to the patch on his shoulder - a blue cross against a white background.
As long as the local people come to CIMIC for information or assistance, whatever their reasons, the unit accomplishes the mission. Each of the Finnish houses in MND-N is open one day a week, and two days a week for the facility in Bijeljina because of the caseload. Initially, the house in Janja will be open for three hours on Wednesdays, and the time will be adjusted as necessary. "We try to be as flexible as possible," says Lahti.
The Finns plan to open a fifth house soon - in Zvornik, in the Republika Srpska. And the CIMIC legacy will continue in MND-N.

Related links:
Nations of SFOR: Finland
CIMIC