Soldiers move in for a better look

Spec. Jessica Abner
First published in
SFOR Informer#157, February 6, 2003

In the United States, the right to bear arms is upheld by the 2nd Amendment to the constitution. The U.S. Armed Forces, by right, have an extensive selection of weaponry. Like the U.S. and many other countries, the Armed Forces in Bosnia and Herzegovina also have the means to protect themselves and their citizens. Because of SFOR’s presence and our goal to provide a safe and secure environment, the coalition maintains accountability of all legal weapons and ammunition and destroys illegally detained arms.

Orasje - In order to account for all the munitions in Multinational Brigade North, inspection teams travel throughout their Areas of Responsibility to inspect weapon storage sites (WSS). There are two reasons for SFOR's inspections, according to Capt. John Davis, WSS inspection (WSSI) teams officer in charge. “SFOR has to maintain what type of threat we face, so we know where their weapons and ammunition are. The second thing is to help the armed forces become more professional.”
In order to assist the soldiers of the Bosnian-Croat component of the Federation Army (VF-H) in their professional development, the inspection team helps sustain the inventory of weapons and ammunition. Davis said that eventually the team is going to take a hands-off approach and let the Croatian armed forces do the inventory independently. Although the goal is to turn over the responsibility, SFOR will monitor the procedure and occasionally does spot-checks.

Tanks, machine guns, RPGs, mortars
Two teams recently inspected one WSS located in Orasje, near the Croatian border. This particular site houses tanks, machine guns, RPGs, mortars, and is guarded by sentries armed with M-16s or AK-47s. When the WSSI team arrived, they entered the new concrete storage buildings that are the home to millions of rounds and munitions. One building is a labyrinth of thousands of wooden boxes containing ammunition. They are stacked on top of and beside each other, so the person counting the boxes can only do so by climbing on top of the configuration of wooden crates.
Staff Sgt. James Williams, NCOIC of team number one, said: “Prior to the inspections, the team went through pre-inspections to see if anything has changed at the site and if improvements have been made. Documents declaring the number of weapons in the site were compared to ensure all paper work matches.” If the numbers contradict each other, then the problem must be solved.
“That's why we do a pre-inspection - to get all the kinks out because we don't want any discrepancies when we do the actual inspection,” added Williams.
If there is a discrepancy, it is up to Williams to touch base with his OIC to obtain further instructions. “If something is missing, or we feel that something is not accounted for, then we'll take something away from them (VF-H). If they're missing an AK-47, we'll come back and take two or three - one for the missing weapon and one additional for the problem - and then we'll destroy them,” said Williams. In other words, if a weapon or round is missing, it must be found or more weapons will be confiscated.

Calculator in hand
The inspection teams physically count all weapons to ensure everything is accounted for and to limit mistakes. With calculator in hand, the person assisting in adding the figures spends only seconds calculating numbers that total in the thousands and sometimes in the millions. Although the thought of adding so many numbers may give numerophobes more than a headache, the WSSI teams do it regularly.
“It's very easy to lose track of your count. That's why you have a calculator. You always double check - if one person is wrong then another team member double checks to make sure the numbers coincide,” said Sgt. James Babcock, assistant team leader. “It's frustrating when you do have to re-count, but it's something you have to do to get the correct numbers.”
An intriguing job
Despite the tedious nature of his job, Babcock enjoys it. “I like it a lot. We get out to see a lot of sites and meet a lot of interesting people.” He said some of the weapons he inspects are fragments of history.
“You can see the weapons have been used by all the different carvings that people put on the weapons,” said Babcock. “Some people engraved names and words on them, so you can tell who used them or what type of person they were. You can find pictures carved in the stock, of the soldier's wife or girlfriends. We even found one with a family photo across the back with all the names engraved into the stock of the weapon.”
Spc. Delonce Hines, driver/ counter, works with Babcock. He also finds the job intriguing.
“It's kind of easy, but I don't think you can bring anyone off the street to do this. There are so many different types of rounds you have to look for. It's a pretty interesting job to have because you get to meet a lot of people,” said Hines.
According to the WSSI team, the soldiers at Orasje were cooperative. “They don't want any problems and they're willing to do anything to assist you. The numbers match and they don't want anything taken away from them," said Babcock. "They just want to get everything squared away.”
Once everything is 'squared away', the WSSI team departs the site and prepares for the next mission. According to Davis, his mission demonstrates SFOR's ability to provide a safe and secure environment.

Related links:
Nations of SFOR: US
SFOR at Work

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Photos: Spec. Jessica Abner

Capt. John Davis maintains accountability of the VF-H armed forces' heavy armoured tanks. SFOR maintains accountability on all weapons in MNB-N.


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In order to count the many rounds of ammunition located at a WSS in Orasje, Sgt. James Babcock walks on the towering crates, relaying the count to his team down below.


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Staff Sgt. James Williams calculates the number of rounds and weapons at the storage site.


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Sgt. Christopher McCracken makes his way through narrow stacks of wooden crates containing rounds.


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Staff Sgt. Theodore Rouse refers to his paperwork ensuring the numbers on paper match those of ammunition on-hand.


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Spc. Delonce Hines is busy logging the total number of weapons and rounds that his team members count. This tedious procedure is done to maintain accountability.