Cold War ice melted in Balkan sun
Lt. Col. Sam Burns
First published in
SFOR Informer#141, June 20, 2002
The 1st Peacekeeping Russian Separate Airborne Brigade
(PRSAB), as part of Multi National Division North (MND-N)
operates within an Area of Operation in the North East of
Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH). Camp Ugljevik is home to the
1PRSAB's Headquarters, Brigade Support Elements and a Reinforced
Battalion. It's here that a special working relationship has
been established, banishing the stereotypes of the Cold War
into the past.
Ugljevik - The MND-N Coalition Support Team (CST), is a seven-man
group of U.S. soldiers. It's a relatively new group; each
man has volunteered to be part of it and was selected because
of his range of military skill sets, military education, maturity
and initiative. The team consists of a captain, a first sergeant
and five sergeants. Each has a special role within the team
such as communications, engineering and medical. Two of the
team are from the National Guard.
Team Leader Capt. Tage Rainsford explains: "Our mission
here is to act as an operating link between the 1PRSAB and
HQ MND-N. This requires us to undertake a range of joint activities
such as patrolling, weapons training, medical and casualty
evacuation to list a few, you learn an awful lot just from
working with someone day to day."
Today's patrol is similar to those done before. A combined
Russian - U.S. group led by the senior Russian officer will
check a number of routes within a given area. The patrol will
stop at pre-designated locations that include municipal buildings
and police stations. In addition to these halts the patrol
leader may stop to investigate any location or situation,
that attracts his attention.
Sergeant's Colby Jackson and Kraig Felt form the U.S. half
of the patrol. The CST has two interpreters. Sean, translates
English and Russian, while Alex translates English and the
local language. Both men will be part of the patrol. Jackson
explains: "We will move down to Priboj and link up with
a BTR80 (Armoured Personnel Carrier) from the PRSAB No. 3
Company. We usually take a few minutes to confirm the route
and what stops we should make. We always cross load the vehicles,
its Sgt. Felt's turn to ride the BTR, one of the Russians
will ride with us in the Humvee."
CST a real team
The U.S. group arrives at the rendezvous point early. Felt
provides team medical cover; he is a Licensed Practical Nurse.
Jackson is a National Guardsman and a forest firefighter in
Montana when not on active service. Felt and Jackson discuss
life in Ugljevik. "I like being a part of the CST. It's
a team in every sense of the word. Everyone is mature and
professional, we all know our jobs and mesh well together,
there are no conflicts in personalities, it's a good place
to be," said Felt.
Jackson agrees: "I like Camp Ugljevik and I enjoy working
with the Russians, it's a unique opportunity. Eagle (Base)
as a post is just like any other in the states but Ugljevik
and the work is different, you are much closer to the local
Slavic culture and that of the Russians."
The BTR80 arrives and Capt. Yuri Siyanskiy, company commander
of No. 3 Company jumps down and introduces himself to the
U.S. soldiers. He will lead the joint patrol. Through the
translators, greetings are exchanged and routes and stops
are confirmed. Platoon commander Lt. Roman Lysenko moves his
gear and weapon into the Humvee.
The patrol, led by the BTR80 makes its way into the police
station in Teocak. The translators prove their worth. Siyanskiy
asks his questions in Russian, while Sean translates into
English. Alex asks the same questions in the local language
and translates the response back into English. Sean relays
the answer to Siyanskiy in Russian. "All is calm, there
are no problems," reports the policeman. The patrol moves
off to the next stop. On route the patrol leader stops at
a monument dedicated to the Partisan Heroes of World War II.
The U.S. soldiers have not seen this one before and both sets
of soldiers take pictures and discuss what the monument commemorates.
Across the street Mr. Lukic, a retired truck driver watches
the group. "I retired here and opened a small shop to
give my children a future. I am not interested in politics
and when I see SFOR I do not care what nationalities they
are, I see only soldiers. I understand why they are here,
but I am looking forward to the day when there are no soldiers
Gornji Sepak is a small cluster of houses loosely grouped
on either side of a gravel road. Siyanskiy and Lysenko knock
on the door of a derelict building being occupied by a family
of Bosnian- Serb displaced persons. There is nobody home.
"We will call back on our next patrol," Siyanskiy
tells Jackson. The patrol attracts attention from a number
of men working in a field. As the vehicles pass, one of the
men forms the Serbian pride symbol with his hand. Seen by
all, he is ignored, this is an SFOR unit at work, no predisposition
is offered to one ethnic group over another.
The final check in the schedule is in Kosluk. Again, all is
calm and there are no problems to report. The plan specified
a 20-minute stop to reiterate SFOR's presence in the area.
It's the first opportunity for Siyanskiy and Lysenko to share
their impressions on being part of SFOR. "This is my
first time in BiH," says Siyanskiy. "I expected
things to be worse than they actually are. Of course I can
see signs of the war but I feel things are improving every
day. Sometimes I really can't understand how a war started
here, I see no difference between Muslims and Orthodox, these
are just ordinary people to me. I do believe that the part
played by Russia in IFOR and SFOR helped to prevent this conflict
from spreading into something much, much worse," he said.
Learning from each other
Lysenko has been in BiH for less than a week; this is his
first joint patrol. "BiH is new to me. I enjoy working
as a part of No. 3 Company. My duties include the administration
of running a platoon, but of course I enjoy fieldwork the
most. Life in Priboj is not so bad; we have a TV, a gym and
a good running circuit around the Sneznica Lake. I keep in
touch with my family by telephone and that's always a good
thing to do."
The patrol ends at Priboj Base. "I have learned a lot
from the Americans, the way they co-ordinate the different
elements of an operation is very good," says Siyanskiy.
Jackson adds: "I am impressed by the Russian equipment,
it's simplicity of design and function gives it durability
in adverse conditions. When you're in the field that's the
kind of equipment you need."
A simple handshake ends the day's operation, but it signifies
a modern global partnership that could only have been imagined
30 years ago.
Nations of SFOR: US,
SFOR at Work