Plotting history to help the future
By Capt. Luis Barber
First published in
SFOR Informer #98, October 11, 2000
Sarajevo - Dr. James Orzech leads the Historical Office
at HQ SFOR. This office, part of CJ7, serves SFOR by keeping as large
an archive as possible.
Orzech graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy and has a doctorate in Oceanography
from the University of California. Also, as a reservist, he is qualified
as a Naval Historian. First, he served as a naval historian with the USS
America Battle Group deployed in the Adriatic Sea in January through February
1996 at the start of IFOR. Then, he came to Bosnia to be the SFOR historian
as a Navy captain from October 1997 through May 1998. He returned to SFOR
as a civilian historian in June 1998 and has been here ever since.
the help of his clerk assistant, Spc. Donald Duty of the US Army, he is
responsible for providing a comprehensive archive of data for the lessons-learned
process for the official record and for future historical research. This
archive contains key documents, reports, messages, decision papers, logbooks,
diaries, etc. Also a representative collection of associated material
such as maps, posters and artifacts can be added.
One of best known reasons for keeping archives is to avoid making the
same mistakes twice. But if people who have to decide do not know where
the historical documents are, it is possible for them to make the same
errors. One of their most important challenges is to reconstruct all of
their electronic records and scan all the paper records. They will be
stored on a large drive to be known as the "Operational Archive."
In the future, every record will be accessible for SFOR users.
"We started to scan, but it will take many months," explained
Orzech. This drive does not yet exist, but has been funded.
According to Orzech, it is very important that "an organisation as
complex as SFOR with so much turnover of personnel must maintain good
historical records or lose continuity. In any military operation, the
routine things we do today will soon become part of history in a very
Since IFOR and SFOR had a historian from the start, it is possible to
ensure that most of historical documents are safe, which is very useful
for any SFOR operation. Dr. Orzech now has been asked to help set up an
historical office for the new KFOR Historian.
"Whenever the staff needs any historical information on past SFOR
operations such as, for example, support for elections, the historian
must find them in the archive. The historian ensures that electronic and
paper records are always put into the archive after, for example, an election
cycle for later use," explained Orzech.
But these are not the only tasks for these men. They are carrying out
all the tasks entrusted to the Historical Office such as maintaining a
photographic and video archive, by taking theirs own photographs and videos
if it is necessary, or by receiving material from donors like Combat Camera
Group, PIO and open-source web sites. To conduct historic interviews and
record events of historical significance - especially if they suspect
that no source will provided them with the material - they also stay in
touch with the MND HQs so not to lose any historical material.
Moreover, they have to carry out historical research. Orzech's advice
for those interested in becoming an historian is, "You must have
good analytical skills and be willing to spend the time to do thorough
research and careful evaluation."