Cold War ice melted in Balkan sun

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Lt. Col. Sam Burns
First published in
SFOR Informer#141, June 20, 2002

The 1st Peacekeeping Russian Separate Airborne Brigade (PRSAB), as part of Multi National Division North (MND-N) operates within an Area of Operation in the North East of Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH). Camp Ugljevik is home to the 1PRSAB's Headquarters, Brigade Support Elements and a Reinforced Battalion. It's here that a special working relationship has been established, banishing the stereotypes of the Cold War into the past.

Ugljevik - The MND-N Coalition Support Team (CST), is a seven-man group of U.S. soldiers. It's a relatively new group; each man has volunteered to be part of it and was selected because of his range of military skill sets, military education, maturity and initiative. The team consists of a captain, a first sergeant and five sergeants. Each has a special role within the team such as communications, engineering and medical. Two of the team are from the National Guard.

Operating Link
Team Leader Capt. Tage Rainsford explains: "Our mission here is to act as an operating link between the 1PRSAB and HQ MND-N. This requires us to undertake a range of joint activities such as patrolling, weapons training, medical and casualty evacuation to list a few, you learn an awful lot just from working with someone day to day."
Today's patrol is similar to those done before. A combined Russian - U.S. group led by the senior Russian officer will check a number of routes within a given area. The patrol will stop at pre-designated locations that include municipal buildings and police stations. In addition to these halts the patrol leader may stop to investigate any location or situation, that attracts his attention.
Sergeant's Colby Jackson and Kraig Felt form the U.S. half of the patrol. The CST has two interpreters. Sean, translates English and Russian, while Alex translates English and the local language. Both men will be part of the patrol. Jackson explains: "We will move down to Priboj and link up with a BTR80 (Armoured Personnel Carrier) from the PRSAB No. 3 Company. We usually take a few minutes to confirm the route and what stops we should make. We always cross load the vehicles, its Sgt. Felt's turn to ride the BTR, one of the Russians will ride with us in the Humvee."

CST a real team
The U.S. group arrives at the rendezvous point early. Felt provides team medical cover; he is a Licensed Practical Nurse. Jackson is a National Guardsman and a forest firefighter in Montana when not on active service. Felt and Jackson discuss life in Ugljevik. "I like being a part of the CST. It's a team in every sense of the word. Everyone is mature and professional, we all know our jobs and mesh well together, there are no conflicts in personalities, it's a good place to be," said Felt.
Jackson agrees: "I like Camp Ugljevik and I enjoy working with the Russians, it's a unique opportunity. Eagle (Base) as a post is just like any other in the states but Ugljevik and the work is different, you are much closer to the local Slavic culture and that of the Russians."
The BTR80 arrives and Capt. Yuri Siyanskiy, company commander of No. 3 Company jumps down and introduces himself to the U.S. soldiers. He will lead the joint patrol. Through the translators, greetings are exchanged and routes and stops are confirmed. Platoon commander Lt. Roman Lysenko moves his gear and weapon into the Humvee.
The patrol, led by the BTR80 makes its way into the police station in Teocak. The translators prove their worth. Siyanskiy asks his questions in Russian, while Sean translates into English. Alex asks the same questions in the local language and translates the response back into English. Sean relays the answer to Siyanskiy in Russian. "All is calm, there are no problems," reports the policeman. The patrol moves off to the next stop. On route the patrol leader stops at a monument dedicated to the Partisan Heroes of World War II. The U.S. soldiers have not seen this one before and both sets of soldiers take pictures and discuss what the monument commemorates.
Across the street Mr. Lukic, a retired truck driver watches the group. "I retired here and opened a small shop to give my children a future. I am not interested in politics and when I see SFOR I do not care what nationalities they are, I see only soldiers. I understand why they are here, but I am looking forward to the day when there are no soldiers here."

Derelict Buildings
Gornji Sepak is a small cluster of houses loosely grouped on either side of a gravel road. Siyanskiy and Lysenko knock on the door of a derelict building being occupied by a family of Bosnian- Serb displaced persons. There is nobody home. "We will call back on our next patrol," Siyanskiy tells Jackson. The patrol attracts attention from a number of men working in a field. As the vehicles pass, one of the men forms the Serbian pride symbol with his hand. Seen by all, he is ignored, this is an SFOR unit at work, no predisposition is offered to one ethnic group over another.
The final check in the schedule is in Kosluk. Again, all is calm and there are no problems to report. The plan specified a 20-minute stop to reiterate SFOR's presence in the area. It's the first opportunity for Siyanskiy and Lysenko to share their impressions on being part of SFOR. "This is my first time in BiH," says Siyanskiy. "I expected things to be worse than they actually are. Of course I can see signs of the war but I feel things are improving every day. Sometimes I really can't understand how a war started here, I see no difference between Muslims and Orthodox, these are just ordinary people to me. I do believe that the part played by Russia in IFOR and SFOR helped to prevent this conflict from spreading into something much, much worse," he said.

Learning from each other
Lysenko has been in BiH for less than a week; this is his first joint patrol. "BiH is new to me. I enjoy working as a part of No. 3 Company. My duties include the administration of running a platoon, but of course I enjoy fieldwork the most. Life in Priboj is not so bad; we have a TV, a gym and a good running circuit around the Sneznica Lake. I keep in touch with my family by telephone and that's always a good thing to do."
The patrol ends at Priboj Base. "I have learned a lot from the Americans, the way they co-ordinate the different elements of an operation is very good," says Siyanskiy.
Jackson adds: "I am impressed by the Russian equipment, it's simplicity of design and function gives it durability in adverse conditions. When you're in the field that's the kind of equipment you need."
A simple handshake ends the day's operation, but it signifies a modern global partnership that could only have been imagined 30 years ago.

Related links:
Nations of SFOR: US, Russia
SFOR at Work

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Photo: Lt. Col. Sam Burns

A short stop during the patrol allows views to be exchanged. From l. to r.: Sean (interpreter), U.S. Sgt. Jackson, Russian Capt Siyanskiy and Lt. Lysenko.


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Photos: PO Susan Rose

While on patrol the combined team stops to speak with local villagers.


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The patrol reaches Kozluk to visit the police station, all is calm.


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U.S. Sgt. Emert and Russian Cadet Mitrofanov discuss an article from their favourite publication.


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A Russian soldier watches the road ahead during the joint patrol.


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Soldiers from 1st PRSAB on patrol.


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Happy to be in BiH, Russian soldiers on route to duty.


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Russian Capt. Siyanskiy and Lt. Lysenko check a derelict building occupied by displaced persons.


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U.S. Sgt. Emert and Russian Lt. Figurdvskiy examine the bells in front of Camp Ugljevik's small Orthodox Church.