Where ground and air combine in OPRES

Lt. Philippe Mouret
First published in
SFOR Informer#132, February 14, 2002

The Portuguese contingent, constituting the SFOR Operational Reserve (OPRES) "ground" teamed with OPRES "air" helicopters of the United States for training Feb. 7.

Visoko - A new Portuguese contingent from the 2nd Armoured Infantry Battalion (2° Batalhão de Infantaria Mecanizada) of the Portuguese Armoured Task Force arrived at the end of January for a six-month tour. Commanded by Lt. Col. Isidro De Morais Pereira, the detachment is 323 strong, and includes 29 officers and 67 non-commissioned officers. It is equipped with 22 Bravia Chaimite Armoured Personal Carriers (APCs), light all-terrain vehicles (UMM Halters and Toyota Land-Cruisers) and tactical lorries. The unit also employs Milan anti-tank missile and 81 mm. heavy mortars. The OPRES Ground is located in Visoko but, as a theatre unit, it is active throughout Bosnia and Herzegovina, replacing troops in various locations and reinforcing units, when necessary.
Experienced, motivated volunteers
De Morais Pereira enumerates his objectives: "Firstly, security; secondly, to succeed in the mission; thirdly, to maintain a high level of co-operation with other SFOR units and fourthly, I hope my soldiers will be satisfied with their work here. More than the half of them have already been involved in operations abroad and they are highly motivated."
Warrant Officer Sergio Borges is doing his third tour here. Always a volunteer, he declares: "I like to help BiH people. As a professional, I like to work with other nations and to represent my country."
Capt. Luis Escorrega, 2nd Company Commander, added, "the contact enriches us; to discover new techniques and new equipment. It is highly motivating to command in an operational tour. I have in mind that the lives of my men depend on my decisions."
To embark, to land
Feb. 7 was the first training with the air component of the OPRES. This one is armed with American Army Aviation Task Force Pegasus (TFP) helicopters, based in Camp Comanche (see article page 5).
In the morning, the soldiers trained to embark and land from UH-60 Black Hawk troop transport helicopters. Most of the Portuguese are used to SA-330 Pumas in Portugal, which is why the pilots insisted on practicing security procedures.
The afternoon was dedicated to flights. In perfect configuration, the each of the three rotary wings dropped into the targeted landing zone as infantrymen quickly formed two lines on both sides of their aircraft, providing cover for two columns. This type of training ensures both units will be able to react within a half-hour after being alerted.
Things change
Safety is paramount during these exercises. Lt. Rui Costa remarked "I always remind my soldiers to pay attention to mines and my drivers to be careful, especially on ice… We always have real ammunition with us. Again, I remind safety measures." Costa's concerns were justified as a real mine was discovered near the drop zone.
In Portugal, the battalion trained for six months becoming proficient in patrols, checkpoints, and mine awareness. Also, for the first time, the unit trained for riots and on Feb. 13, participated with the Multinational Specialised Unit (MSU) preparing for a Joint Resolve exercise in Banja Luka.
Assimilating into a new environment requires good ambassadorship. Costa said: "I remind to my men that the traditions of this country are different from the Portuguese ones and that they must respect this." What Sgt. Victor Aquino added "It is an adventure to discover a new country and new cultures."
Costa was already present in 2000, so he added: "The situation is not different but I have noticed reconstruction. And some soldiers from my platoon, which were here in 1997, told me that things have changed a lot."

Related links:
Nations of SFOR: US, Portugal
Training and Exercises

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Photos: PO Andy Gedge

Assault sections spring into action.


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A Portuguese infantrymen section provides cover for a U.S. Black Hawk.


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Portuguese soldiers secure the drop zone.


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The new OPRES ground meets the air counterpart.


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Task Force Pegasus Black Hawks land under Portuguese protection.