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SFOR gets a look at VRS training

By Sgt. Peter Fitzgerald
First published in
SFOR Informer#119, August 8, 2001

Training got underway with a bang at Manjaca Range in Multinational Division Southwest (MND-SW) July 26. This time, it wasn't SFOR troops making all the noise. This exercise involved soldiers from the Army of Republika Srpska (VRS), and SFOR was there merely to observe.
Manjaca Range - As the fire from the tanks thundered through the valley below, VRS Maj. Milovan Nisic, training officer for the 101st Armoured Brigade, stood and watched his troops from above.
"This is their baptism by fire," he said. "This is where they put together everything they've learned."
Standing alongside Nisic were SFOR observers from the United Kingdom Battle Group (UKBG). Their task was to ensure the exercise complied with SFOR's mission as cited in the General Framework Agreement for Peace (GFAP), said Australian Capt. Malcolm Brailey, Joint Military Affairs officer for the UKBG.
"We're a presence," he said. "We're looking to see that the exercise isn't offensive in nature, that there are no territorial issues and that they're actually conducting the exercise they said they were."
VRS training
The exercise was the final phase of training for the soldiers and, for the first time, they were able to test their skills on a live-fire range. They performed manoeuvres with M84 tanks (the Yugoslav version of the T72) and BVP M80 Armoured Personnel Carriers. The APCs provided fire support as the tanks shot off 125mm rounds at their targets. Teams were switched throughout the exercise so all of the more than 100 soldiers could experience the live-fire range.
By the end of the afternoon, only two targets had been missed.
"I'm very satisfied with their performance," Nisic said. He added that these soldiers showed a great deal of improvement from the last class.
In their training, the VRS soldiers go through three months of instruction where they learn basic soldier skills. They then put those skills to the test in a two-week field training exercise. During the two weeks in the field the soldiers conduct individual manoeuvres, dry runs with their equipment and vehicles, and some sub-calibre firing. At the end of the exercise they co-ordinate all of their efforts into a troop battle run on the live-fire range.
"This is the pinnacle of their training," said Staff Sgt. Brian Powell, UKBG military observer for Joint Military Affairs.
As an observer, Powell said he was there to ensure the exercise complied with pre-established criteria. He looked at manpower, equipment and area of operation to ensure the exercise stayed within the agreed bounds. Also, by observing the VRS in action, SFOR could get an idea of the unit's organisation.
"We get a feel for their capabilities," Powell said. "We can see how organised they are, what their attitudes are, and how they conduct and control their operation."
After observing the VRS hit nearly all of their targets, Powell said he felt the unit was very capable.
"They're quite a well-organised unit, considering they've only been at it for three months," he said.
Brailey added that the 101st Armoured Brigade was the key unit in the VRS.
"This is where they put all their resources," he said.
Future hopes
After finishing their part in the exercise, the VRS soldiers found some shade under the trees at Manjaca Range and took a break. With the final phase of their training complete, the next step for these soldiers is getting assigned to a unit. They will go on to serve six months in various units in the VRS to fulfil their required nine months of military service.
After his day observing VRS soldiers in action, Powell said he found the relationship between SFOR and the VRS to be a very good one.
"They're very willing to talk," he said. "Military language is universal. When we talk about tanks and artillery, we understand each other."
Nisic agreed. "It's been an excellent relationship with SFOR," he said. "The co-operation and contact for the last three years has been very good."
Powell added that co-operative exercises like this "can only help" the future for peace in the country.
As the VRS continues to train its soldiers, there is also hope that future exercises will involve co-operation among all the forces in Bosnia and Herzegovina.
"They're an army trying to maintain their capabilities," said Brailey. "We would like to see combined exercises between the VRS and the Federation Army (VF). That's a hope for the future."

Related link: SFOR at Work