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Italians make last patrol of the year

By 1Lt. Franois-Xavier Miller
First published in
SFOR Informer#104, January 10, 2001

Rogatica - The Italian VM-90 engines are roaring in the barracks square of the Italian Battle Group 72nd Coy. It is Dec. 31 and Sgt. Gianpaolo Richo signals the departure of the last patrol of the year. The two light, wheeled vehicles drive out of the town on the roads of Republica Sprska, into the surrounding mountain environment so familiar to the Alpinis.
In the front VM, the driver remains silent, concentrating on the 40 km/h speed and the road where potholes and ruts have to be anticipated. At regular intervals, the radio operator, L/Cpl. Vincenzo Trinchini, reports the column’s location.
"The length and the composition of the patrols change according to the places and the local context. The routes are always scheduled randomly, today we are taking the green track" explains 1Lt. Paolo Sandri, Company Commanding Officer, who insisted on accompanying the last patrol. "Patrols are our main activity, but there are also escorts, guardings of some areas. The soldiers’ behaviour is important. We must not show the weapons too much, we have to drive slowly, take care of our manners and gestures. It is a very important responsibility for a patrol leader, a sergent," he reckons.
The first stop at Mededa is enough to convince observers that the Alpini have been able to win the hearts of the locals. This depressed spot was among Italian CIMIC targets, and two houses were rebuilt. The village leader shows us the water mains and explains they had the pipes built by and thanks to SFOR. He speaks through translator Lance Cpl. Andrej Hladnik, a native of northern Italy while other Alpini distribute milk and biscuits to the locals.
The patrol passes Visegrad and its bridge made famous by Nobel Prize Winner Ivo Andric. Tents are pitched next to houses under reconstruction. The woman who leads this small community is reassured by the presence of Italian soldiers. "She complains that people shot in the air, to provoke them, from the other bank of the Drina river, five days ago," says the translator."And she wants some explanation of a medical prescription ." Because of a doctor’s strike in Visegrad, the Italian company doctor has previously visited a sick man but the presecribed medicine does not have Serbo-Croat instructions. Sergeant Gianpaolo Richo jots down the information for his report while explanations are given on the use of the medicine.
A little later, the colunm goes down a rough track and arrives at Kurtalici. The one family living there offers coffee to its visitors; the father recounts that his grandfather saw his house here destroyed and rebuilt it, as did his father, as did he. And he only wished that his children will not experience the same.
The route home passes without mishap. Tonight for New Year’s Eve, the Alpini will merely have a big meal. Spending the night of St Sylvester evening on duty does not seem to worry them. "It doesn't matter, this day or another day, it doesn't make any kind of difference" said L/Cpl. Raffaele Silvestre. According to Cpl. Vincenzo Pescosolido: "It is strange, but if I can help anybody who has to live this way in a depressed spot, to improve their lives, then I feel better for it."
Some might argue that the Millenium ended last year. Some say that this was the last patrol of the Millenium. For the Returnees in these areas, there are more imminent and basic questions to be answered.

Related link:
Nations of SFOR: Italy
SFOR at Work