This perfect soldier can kill you
Sgt. Kelly Whitteaker
First published in
SFOR Informer#145, August 15, 2002
Spread throughout the Sarajevo Valley region, as well
as Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH) as a whole, is a silent killer.
Without warning he strikes, taking his victims by surprise.
Often times his purpose is to maim, many times however he
goes too far and death is the end result. This fiend, whose
victims include men, women, children and animals, is the mine.
Camp Butmir - Company Quartermaster Sergeant Sean Whyte,
an engineer with the Irish Defence Forces, sits solemnly behind
his desk. A series of maps of BiH liberally cover the walls
of his office that is located in the Mine Information Co-ordination
Cell (MICC) on Camp Butmir. At first glance, the charts appear
to be like any other you would use; terrain features, rivers
and roads are clearly marked. However, there is one distinct
feature on these maps that stand out from your average chart
that makes for a rather sobering moment. It is the liberal
smattering of red dots, lending a measles-like quality to
the diagrams. These red markings represent known mines throughout
the region of BiH, and there are a lot of them.
The perfect soldier
"The mine is the perfect soldier," says Whyte who
has 27 years of military service to his credit. "He doesn't
have to sleep, he doesn't require food and he will not move
from his position."
He reaches over and picks up an example of a toe popper. An
anti-personnel mine, this small, flat piece of plastic is
deceiving in appearance. Looking nondescript, this useless
chunk of junk is really a crippling explosive device that
literally waits for the right person to walk right over it.
"The real problem with anti-personnel mines is the way
they are laid," said Whyte. "At one time mine fields
were laid in a defensive position. During World War II mostly
engineers laid mines in a defensive position, that meant that
they would actually walk out, put a mine out and record exactly
where that mine was. The modern day way of laying mines is
indiscriminate, they can be laid from the air with aeroplanes
or by using a scattering system so the mines can be laid anywhere
in a matter of minutes," he explained.
According to information provided by the MICC, the purpose
behind using mines from a military standpoint is to deny ground
to the enemy, not to kill and injure. Like any deterrent,
the mine must carry a credible threat. Unfortunately that
threat results in injury and death to the local population
as well as to soldiers who are involved in peacekeeping missions
like SFOR. From 1995 to the present, there have been 14 SFOR
soldiers killed by mines in BiH.
Numbers speak volumes
"There are 64 countries in the world with 65 million
mines - there are over a hundred million mines in stockpile,"
Mine awareness became a global issue with the publicity of
the Ottawa Treaty in 1990.
"The general public started to become aware of the mine
problem throughout the world when kids and women particularly
were getting killed in 1990," he said. "People started
asking 'what are these mines?' In 1997 the Ottawa Treaty,
that started in Canada, invited countries to participate -
and they were amazed that over 120 countries came and listened
to what they had to say about mines."
Awareness is best prevention
Familiarity of your surroundings is key when it comes to the
threat of mines in theatre.
"Mine awareness is relevant all through a soldiers career,"
Though many military personnel receive mine awareness training
in their home countries prior to deployment, Whyte stressed
the importance of not becoming complacent and to remain alert
while working in BiH.
"An SFOR soldier is not a local. He has to be all the
time aware that the threat of mines is there. Stay on the
hard track, never go off the beaten track and use SFOR approved
routes," he said. "If you ignore the threat of mines,
you ignore everything. The threat of mines is 24 hours a day,
seven days a week, 52 weeks a year, it's not going to go away,
it's still out there."
The MICC conducts mine awareness classes for troops stationed
at Camp Butmir. For information contact CSMS Whyte at 495000
Engineering - Mines