Engineers still bridging the divides

Master Sgt Jörg Wagner
First published in
SFOR Informer#157, February 6, 2003

Two bridges, 500 metres apart, lead into the town of Foca across the River Drina. One connects the Bosnian-Serb sector of the town with the other bank of the river; the other takes you into the Bosniac sector. The German engineers built that bridge in 1996 to ensure the freedom of movement of the IFOR/SFOR troops, but SFOR has long since stopped using it. However, at the request of the town's Bosniac minority, it is still being maintained by the engineers.

Foca - On top of its multiple tasks in support of base-camp operations, which comprise strengthening the perimeter fence and winterizing billets, the Engineer Company also has off-base tasks to fulfill. These include EOD (explosive ordnance disposal) and minefield reconnaissance by mine monitoring teams or inspecting the so-called temporary bridge in Foca.
"It changes from the daily routine"
On Wednesday morning, the Engineers team, led by Sgt 1st Class Peter Schnee, set out for Foca. An hour before starting the inspection, the EOD team checked the bridge for any undetected explosive devices. "So far we've never found anything, but it is important not to let things become routine," said platoon leader Capt. Ingo Kalthoff. While the second team member, Master Sgt. Oliver Bürmann was still busy checking every last nook and cranny of the bridge, the engineers' inspection team arrived and immediately got down to their non-routine job.
First, the connecting bolts of the deck panels and piers were tightened from inside. At the same time, Master Sgt. Thomas Dorn, an Army mountain guide, attached safety ropes to the outer railing. He then helped Pfc Hannes Kiebler put on a safety harness, because Kiebler was the man working on the outside that day. His mission: to tighten the bolts underneath the decking and on the outer railing. Kiebler was enthusiastic: "Brilliant, this is a welcome change from the daily routine of base-camp duty!" He immediately set about his job of checking the stability of the fastening elements, the ice-cold river just three metres below him.
Condition of the bridge: good
His counterpart was Pfc Matthias Bühringer. Suddenly he was heard calling: "Sergeant, a connecting bolt has come loose down here." Staff Sgt. Wolfgang Höhn, who was in charge of keeping the bridge inspection record that morning, noted it down. It was the first of the 20 entries made in the course of this recurrent monthly 'level 1' inspection. A 'level 1' inspection consists of tightening all the bolts on the deck panels and piers and conducting a visual inspection of bolts and cross girders for cracks. A 'level 2' inspection additionally requires measuring the bridge for sag.
The condition of the bridge was rated as good. Thus the mission was accomplished. And the whole population, whatever its ethnic group, can go on using it.

Related links:
Nations of SFOR: Germany
Engineering - bridge stories

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Photos: Courtesy of German Engineers unit

Pfc. Kiebler performs his dangerous maintenance mission, helped with special security assets.

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Staff Sgt. Höhn registers the results of the maintenance activities after the EOD's inspection of the bridge.

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Pfc. Kiebler tightens the bolts underneath the decking.