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Helping people: German CIMIC takes action

By 1st Lt. Luis Sanchez
First published in
SFOR Informer#120, August 22, 2001

In order to consolidate the peace process after a war, the key point is to help people to re-establish a normal life. The German Civil-Military (CIMIC) Company is working hard for the people of Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH) in reconstructing public infrastructure, fostering the economy and founding new business.

Rajlovac - August 10, probably, one of the most important tasks carried out by the German Contingent would be the CIMIC co-operation within the framework of return of Displaced Persons and Returnees (DPRE’s) in connection with BiH reconstruction. At the end of the war, Germany was the country with the higher number of refugees (about 345,000). Now, after several years of work, this number has been decreased considerably (to 45,000), thanks to the work of successive personnel with a rare CIMIC concept of helping Bosnians whatever their origins were.
“Our main effort was to rebuild housing, now we focus on infrastructure, schools, kindergartens and health centres to improve the economic situation, meeting with locals to set up business at low level, re-activating local economy and creating new jobs,” explained Lt. Col. Tilman Röhricht, company commander. “It is not too different from my normal job, making decisions and managing the unit, only the staff are different; all the soldiers are truly engaged with this task. As an Artillery officer, I was trained to destroy military targets (during a war) with the smallest effort, and here my intention is to build up as much as possible with the limited resources we have,” said Röhricht, normally deputy of an artillary unit and now in a CIMIC Coy. One of the staff, 1st. Lt. Jurgen Bleil said, “the objective here is to construct with one budget the most possible amount of buildings, quite different from private firms. The happiness of the people is our motivation to perform a good job.”
The company currently comprises 38 soldiers and 11 local translators, combined in a special mixture between military and engineering.
This unit is unusual in the German Army, about 80% of the staff are officers but their level of responsibility explains this. Their job is not a common military job, a high technical level is required to act in a quite different context from the military point of view.
Lt. Col. Manfred Pathe, chief of projects, commented: “The technical work is easy, in Germany we work only for military purposes, now here for civilian goals. The most part of them have double qualifications. In addition to their military skills they have a university degree, such as mechanical or electrical engineering.”
The Unit has a direct chain of command from the German Army under operational command and from SFOR Headquarters (Combined Joint 9, CIMIC) for operational control.
Theatre - wide
To perform its job it always maintains a relationship and co-operation with BiH authorities, Governmental and Non-Governmental Organisations and International Organisations, especially with Reconstruction and Return Task Force (see SFOR Informer #118).
To act more accurately, it operates in the whole theatre and not only in the German Area of Responsibility (AoR). For instance, the refugees from the area of the German City of Hamburg came from Modrica (Republika Srpska, RS) in Northern BiH. In this case it was necessary to act there, making possible the return of these people to their pre-war home. One element of the CIMIC Coy that also shows the importance of knowing real problems, is keeping in contact with people directly and supervising projects from the offices that have been set up in Modrica and in Ustikolina (Gorazde area, Federation, Canton 5).
Capt. Dietmar Strauch is serving in the CIMIC coy for the third time. “At first, people were reserved, now they know us and they are friendly and confident. The first project in which I participated was a pharmacy, two years later people remember me and salute me in a very friendly manner.” He continued: “In Jelec (a village in the German AoR) we rebuilt 23 houses in two and a half months. People were very happy and the Mayor named one street with my name. These houses were the seeds for rebuilding more houses. Meanwhile other houses have been built by locals with their own resources,” making possible the return of DPREs to that area.
Engineering officers do not only compose the Coy. Privates also play an important role, like Michael Metz who works as driver. “This gives me the opportunity to travel and see what really happens in BiH.” Two of his colleagues are translators. In addition, there are 11 local translators.
Right now, the group has finished a lot of projects, among them a school for blind children. Others are underway like housing and schools in different areas, construction of power supplies, health centres, a womens’ refuge and primary schools. All of them show how the German Contingent is engaged in the task of rebuilding BiH life, by means of its CIMIC unit, with one motto: “Give the young a chance that the land can live.”

Related links: Nations of SFOR: Germany