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," said Whyte.
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," said Whyte.
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 ext. 4230.

Related link:
Engineering - Mines and De-mining

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Photos: Sgt. Kelly Whitteaker

In the Mine Information Co-ordination Cell a display of different mines is mounted on the wall.

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Company Quartermaster Sergeant Sean Whyte from the Mine Information Co-ordination Cell points out the location of mines on a map of Bosnia and Herzegovina.

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Company Quartermaster Sergeant Sean Whyte points out the various types of mines that pose a threat to SFOR service members.