Deep Ski Patrol

1st Lt. Pedro Fernández Vicente
First published in
SFOR Informer#131, January 31, 2002

A French Ski Squad patrolled an isolated area of the Nevesinje municipality finishing with a long ski march Jan. 10. The French battle Group (FBG) carries out such activities to ensure that even the most remote places in their area of responsibility (AOR) are patrolled. Due to bad weather conditions, these patrols use various methods and equipment to approach their target.

Nevesinje - The silence was broken by the noise of helicopters. The clamor announced the arrival of an Italian helicopter patrol. In a matter of minutes, two helicopters landed,and departed. A few moments after they left, quite returned to the snow covered heath, but now ten French soldiers were on the ground.
In the next five minutes, the patrol commander quietly issued his commands. Following these, the men ran to the rendezvous point, donned their white jackets and skis. All were now ready to go. Another command and the noise of skies sliding over snow indicatedthat the mission had begun.

The Patrol
"This patrol is very interesting for me, especially from the military point of view. I'm sincerely happy to be able to do it in these weather conditions. And it is really rewarding to see how glad these isolated people are when we arrive. Then you forget the effort," said French Sgt. Christian Strohl.
"For this mission we have brought ration packs in our backpacks for Krusevljani village, where some Muslim families have returned. They live in very hard conditions, without electricity, running water, telephone and are completely isolated because of the snow on the roads. The local police haven't been there for more than two months. We are the only way they have to communicate with therest of world," commented Capt. Philippe Corbel, the patrol leader.

The Aim
The patrol belongs to the 3rd Company of the 27th Alpine Troops Battalion, which has the district of Gacko and Nevesinje as its AOR. This large area includes the border with Montenegro, which is also patrolled. Corbel explained that this patrol aims to make the villagers feel less isolated by demonstrating to them that the patrols can reach wherever they need to. Concurrently the patrols gather information and keep their own skills honed.

The enemy
"Ski patrols in Bosnia and Herzegovina have two clear enemies: weather conditions and mine fields. Of all the weather conditions, the wind is the worst. When the temperature is very low, the wind cuts into your skin, sharp as a knife. Then you start thinking that your clothing is not as effective against cold weather as you believed it was.
Mine fields are the other 'enemy' because you never know what the snow-covered ground hides. The only way you can fight both of them is by performing detailed planning," said Corbel.

The Planning
"We can do this patrol safely thanks to detailed information about the terrain and the weather conditions. We reconnoiter the terrain during the summer, when the weather is good. All members of the company especially all the officers and non-commissioned officers, are involved in these. We have the support of an engineer officer who checks every possible route in order to say whether it is clear or not. Then we bring our map and our database up to date and decide which route is the safest to reach our AOR. Because of this constant updating, you can always find the information you need to maintain the unit's operational capability even though you are a newcomer," he added.
"All members of the patrol take active part in this planning. Everybody has detailed information about the route, the possible dangers in the area, timetables, points of contact, etc. ...each member could do the patrol alone and this turns the patrol into a compact unit with high operational capabilities."
"As you can see, the French Deep Ski Patrol has few similarities to a pleasant week-end ski trip," he concluded.

Related links:
Nations of SFOR: France
SFOR at Work

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Photos: PO Steve Wood

The patrol starts to move after putting on their skies.

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There are long hours of skiing ahead before their tour of duty ends.

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You need to protect your eyes from the bright sunlight reflected off the snow.

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An Italian Bell-205 UH1 is taking off after dropping off its passengers.

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A Deep Ski Patrol, from 3rd Coy of the 27th Battalion of French Alpine Troops, crosses in the Nevesinje snow moor.

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Sgt. Strohl and part of the patrol take the first steps, adjusting their equipment.

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The disembarkation has to be safe and quick.