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A small French Detachment

By 1st Lt. Luis Sánchez
First published in
SFOR Informer#128, December 12, 2001

To accomplish its mission effectively, the French Battle Group has deployed platoon-size units across its area of responsibility. Living in small units is quite different from the life in Mostar-Ortijes.

Jablanica - After driving across sloping terrain, a French squad arrives at the top of a narrow valley where the tiny village of Meopotocje lies (Prozor municipality, some 50 kilometres west of Sarajevo). Villagers live in poor conditions and receive their visitors in a friendly manner. What sets these soldiers apart is that they are not strangers but neighbours.
They carry out the SFOR mission by patrolling and monitoring and staying in contact with locals. Bosniacs and Bosnian-Croats and also Displaced Persons inhabiting the area. "We show our presence and collect useful information. Locals are friendly," said Sgt. Alexandre Carpentier, patrol commander.
The Alpine Hunters
The first platoon, 3 Coy, "27th Bataillon de Chasseurs Alpins," based in Annecy (in the French Alps), is at this time detached in Jablanica, a city some 35 kilometres north of Mostar. A green-yellow triangular handkerchief on their left shoulder easily distinguishes these 26 soldiers from soldiers in the regiment's four other companies.
The third company, comprised of five platoons, is deployed in Prozor and Jablanica. Two platoons perform the mission in each place on a two-week rotation. The unit's motto, "Pige et galope," refers to the company's attitude towards life: as soon as you understand, run and accomplish your mission.
The members of the first platoon are the youngest of the Coy, with an average age of 20. For most of these soldiers it is their first tour in the theatre. They are well prepared and are highly motivated.
Living in the site
"The life in a small unit is quite different. We accomplish the mission directly and we can see the results. Also, we have a lot of initiative," commented 1st Lt. Louis-Marie Vallançon, platoon commander. They keep in close touch with locals and authorities whatever the religion or group.
Their post is the basement of a civilian home that used to be a restaurant. It is set close to Prozor's road. Nothing special distinguishes the site from the others, apart from the guard with a FAMAS 5.56 mm rifle at the gate, three VABs (French Armoured Personnel Carrier), a VBL (armoured scout vehicle, 4x4) and a military car in the parking lot.
The duties
To deal with daily duties, the platoon is divided into three groups with rotating roles. The first is in charge of logistical and security tasks. It involves providing security in the parking lot and at the gate, and doing housework such as cooking the meals or cleaning. Soldiers cook their own meals and they are really good cooks.
Pvt. Stephane Lannerey declared: "It's quite different from living in Mostar and it's great for a change." His companion, Pvt. Sebastien Pigny, added: "We are like a family that lives together and it makes the time fly." Also Pfc. Dominique Jeux commented: "Respect for others is the main point when living together."
The two other groups are in rotation patrolling and monitoring the area. In the evening a group patrols Jablanica's streets and the other does it in the middle of the night. Meanwhile, the other team doesn't waste time and tactical training is on course. There was a reconnaissance exercise that day.
Staff Sgt. Thierry Vayssiere, deputy commander, is in charge of logistic matters. "Once a week I go to Mostar and fetch supplies. It's necessary to be organised and that everybody knows his duties," he said. He also discloses the secret of daily life: "The platoon is like a gear. The main points are cohesion, union, professionalism and that everybody does their best to perform the mission."
Night falls and lights are switched off. The village is sleeping and in the small French detachment activity goes on. A night patrol through the streets guards the safe and secure environment.

Related link:
Nations of SFOR: France
SFOR at Work