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Italian Iron Harvest

By 1st Lt. Pedro Fernández Vicente
First published in
SFOR Informer#128, December 12, 2001

Large explosions broke the silence over the mountains as the Italian Battle Group's (IBG) Explosive Ordinance Disposal (EOD) team blew up more than 6 tonnes of ammunition. This occurred on Nov. 30, Dec. 4 and 6 on Kalinovik firing range, as part of Operation Iron Harvest.

Preparations
Kalinovik - It was a cold and clear morning on the Kalinovik range, as the highly skilled EOD team worked hard to prepare two enormous holes where the large quantity of ammunition would be destroyed. A narrow gully was the site for the demolition pits. After an hour the picks stopped digging, everything was ready. The waiting began. Absolute silence pervaded the environment, and only the crackle of footsteps on snow broke the calm. Two lines that were more than a thousand metres long lay over the white blanket. The wire line was checked three times. WO1 Francesco Franco and WO2 Carmelo Gueli worked slowly and methodically examining each centimetre. Both are experienced in this type of work and both are aware of the importance of doing the job correctly.
The appointment
There was a sudden flurry of activity as the convoy arrived. Five vehicles, four from the Italian Battle Group and one from the VRS escorted a Republika Srpska Army (VRS) dump truck. The back of the truck was covered in order to hide its lethal cargo. The lorry began its descent along the path, which was covered in more than 30 centimetres of snow. A few minutes later it arrived at the unloading point at the far end of the gully. The driver got out and the VRS soldiers began to unload the cargo. On top there was a 12.7mm anti-aircraft gun and a large number of ammunition boxes.
The check
The ammunition came from the magazines of Pale and Rudo. The VRS officer responsible for the cargo, 1st Lt. Drazen Guto, gave the order for the cargo to be unloaded. The SFOR leader of the EOD team, 1st Lt. Eduardo Acqua, ensured that the munitions were laid out correctly for inspection. With great vigour, VRS soldiers unpacked the cargo, as the EOD team divided it into different groups. Mortar shells, rocket and anti-tank weapons lay in one pile; light weapons, machine guns and anti-aircraft cartridges in the other. Explosives, mines and grenades were piled in another place, and in the final stack were the remaining weapons. Throughout this Acqua kept a count and checked the proceedings. An hour later the truck had been unloaded, but everything was not OK. Part of the cargo was not on the list.
"There are two boxes of old weapons, there is the ruined anti-aircraft gun, a box of grenades, and explosives that we did not expect. We expected only five kilos of TNT, and more than 50 has arrived," said Acqua. "I will take the TNT and the grenades but the weapons have to go back," he decided. When everything was accounted for both the Italian officers signed the delivery receipt and the truck left the area, taking everybody except the EOD team and IBG press information officer.
The real work starts
The troops remaining divided into two teams: Acqua, Franco and Guclielmino to work in one hole and WO1 Vicenzo Vergine, Warrant Officers Gueli, Strippoli and Capozio to work in the second. They put on their protective equipment and began their very specialised and highly-skilled work.
The first team unwrapped the rounds of the light weapons, machine guns and anti-aircraft gun and put them into a demolition pit at the bottom of the first hole. The second team unpacked the mortar shells, anti-tank weapons and rockets and put them on the snow around the border of the second hole.
Once the crates were opened the colour of the rounds held within could be seen. They were 120mm mortar shells. Upon seeing them it was hard not to remember that it was a round like this that killed 60 people in Sarajevo Markale Market. It was a good feeling that these rounds would never be used in Bosnia and Herzegovina again.
Hope
Two hours later, all the ammunition was in a hole, the explosives were in place and everybody was at a safe distance. All that was needed was to turn on the exploder, check that the explosion had been successful and the work of the Italian EOD team was over. The task completed, it started to snow heavily, as if nature wished to draw a veil over this episode as quickly as the blast that had destroyed the lethal cargo.

Related links:
Nations of SFOR: Italy
Project Harvest