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George Brown the bridgeman of MMU

By Sgt. Michael Maddox
First published in
SFOR Informer #91, July 5, 2000

The Material Management Unit is a part of the Engineer Support Service in Sarajevo. They provide engineers and resources mainly concerned with bridge materials. They also receive materials delivered to them by NATO contracts and arrange transport of materials to Sarajevo.
"Everything comes in and goes out from here. The materials are not locally purchased here in Bosnia, they are delivered to us," said manager of MMU, British SFOR civilian employee George Brown. A significant task for the MMU is also hosting the various bridge courses, organised by the HQ SFOR Chief Engineer.
"We provide the area, all bridge material. We also assure the accommodation, feeding and of course we give technical advice and solve any problems. But approximately 90 percent of our work at the moment is the launching and delaunching of military equipment bridges. Some bridges have been donated to the Displaced Persons programme as aid for the civil community," clarified Brown.
All MMU tasks are carried out with eight local Croatian civilian employees. Brown's employees are very experienced. They have to be efficient and confident when working with a bridge.
"The best way to be confident with a bridge is to play with it as a way of training. Training makes perfect. It's difficult to train and be comfortable on the bridge site because if something goes wrong on the bridge site, it's a serious problem. If something goes wrong on bridge training, it's easily put right," he said. "So the best time to make mistakes in during training. If you make the mistakes during training they don't get made during a major launch or delaunch of a bridge."
Brown came over to BiH in March of 1994. He spent two years in Sarajevo first with the the United Nations (UN) and then with IFOR as a transport manager. He has been in charge as a manager of MMU since April 1996.
It may seem unusual that the manager is a civilian employee. "Basically when NATO came in they realised they needed some continuity, something the military can't do because they are only here for six month periods before turning over - because with change, things always got changed. This is something we can't afford to do in certain areas. With a permanent unit, there's no break" explained Brown.
Last year was very busy for Brown and his people.
"Normally we don't do construction from September until February or March. This year we have worked all of the way through. We've had certain bridges come back. The big season for that will start in April or March and carry on until the end of September," Brown said. "This year, we're looking at working a full 12-month period, which is really busy. That is dictated not only by military requirements but also civilian. They are keeping us very busy. It's a worthwhile exercise. But anything that help the population move back into the area where they lived before has to be a good thing.
"If they civilian companies want a by-pass, the by-pass must go in. So we have to be flexible and be able to adapt to the mission. Everything here started off very fast then slowed down and now it's picking up again. There are ups and downs all of the time. It's certainly very steady. We're almost as busy now as we were in 1996," Brown said.
One challenge the MMU is now facing is to move to another place.
"As a result of the visit paid to MMU installations in North Port Split by the Chief Engineer, the Ploce option to move the present MMU main storage area looks like the proper one," according to a recent HQ SFOR Engineers Situation Report.
"The British previously used Split North Port. The British have now re-structured. They are closing Split North Port. They will be moving from there by June of this year, leaving us here as an independent unit. The plan for the moment is for us to stay independent at North Port and move to Ploce later on this year," said Brown.
The MMU handles a lot of material that will need to be moved. They currently have about 450,000 tons of bridge.
"It is quite a logistical problem. We certainly can't move it by road. There's no way to get to Ploce by rail. The only way is to move it is by ship. That's not a problem. We load the ship, get there and unload the ship. We don't have problems, we have solutions," stated Brown.
Will they need some help with implementation of this task?
"Generally, the only people that can help us is ourselves. Military planners make the decisions, and we have to make the decisions work. Hopefully, there will be a good level of support, which there always is, from the military and also civilian agencies if they are required," said Brown.
Life brings a lot of changes. According to Brown, many are for the better and some for the worse. With SFOR restructuring everything is smaller but there is still a job to be done.
"We seem to be busier now than we've ever been. It seems there's so much work to do. We’re always busy - there's never a quiet moment, there's always something to do," he said.
Brown loves his job. He said his job gives him sense of life.
"One of the most important things in my job is satisfaction and sense of humour, I think. Humour helps because it's very frustrating sometimes. It's difficult to take holiday in the summer in the middle of the bridge period," Brown said. "But the second most important things for me is job satisfaction and providing a good service. To be able to do that, you need to be happy in what you're doing. At the moment, I'm quite happy. So, I see myself staying. As long as I have that satisfaction I'll stay."

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