Out and about in the Trnovo area

By Capt. Sylvester Mackensen
First published 20 March, 2003

On the perimeter road on the west side of Camp Rajlovac, it is 06:30 a.m. After a long break, Staff Sgt. Reichmeier and his soldiers from 1.4 Patrol are making preparations to return to their 'old' area. Exercises 'Paladin' and 'Joint Resolve' (SFOR Informer #158 and #159) took a lot of the soldiers from 1 German Task Force Company to new mission areas in the recent weeks. The people in the Gorazde Corridor noticed it, too. The otherwise regular calls were not paid. Today two 'Wolves' are again leaving the camp to carry out their usual missions.

Trnovo - The mountain slopes in the Sarajevo basin are still shrouded in morning mist; the sun is slowly scaling the peaks in orange and pink light. There is a special reason for Reichmeier turning up for duty so early this morning.In addition to gathering information by talking to local people and demonstrating SFOR presence in the area, the patrol has a mission from the Multinational Brigade Southeast to accomplish today. The Federation Army is conducting basic training at Camp Vrtace. A weapons check is planned to make sure that the number of weapons specified in the notification tallies with the arsenal actually there.
Training of the Bosnian recruits
It takes the patrol just under an hour to reach its destination. The route takes them over long passes up into the mountains. Through dark and snow-covered valleys, past sun-flooded peaks, until they finally reach the camp. It is under a half metre of snow. When the patrol gets there, the 35 recruits have already fallen into formation. Reichmeier first checks the number of weapons and items of training equipment - it is correct. Now there is time to talk to the company commander, Capt. Smajlovic. Since this is the third time the patrol has been up there, the atmosphere is relaxed and cordial.
Over a filjan (small cup) of coffee, Smajlovic talks about the training that the recruits are being put through and the situation at Camp Vrtace: "The soldiers are young and the climate is rough. Ten men have already been withdrawn due to illness. One went down with fever and yesterday we had to take him to Gorazde. Shortly afterwards, another recruit had a series of asthma attacks. We could see SFOR helicopters in the sky above us, but we unfortunately did not have any means of contacting them. Up here in the mountains there is only one medical vehicle. All we could do was wait until the police arrived to take him to the nearest hospital. "Perhaps, we can co-operate a bit more?" the company commander asks, going on to say: "I like to see SFOR calling in on us; you are always welcome."
Fitness to fight
Reichmeier would like to know what training the soldiers receive and hears that the term of compulsory military service in Bosnia and Herzegovina is six months, two of which being devoted to basic training. This kind of training is the same for soldiers in all the armed services. After that, they undergo specific assignment-related training. "I have too few NCOs," Smajlovic complains. "Next week, training will be provided in how to act and react in battlefield, how to establish contact, how to use a map and a compass, and how to administer first aid."
The patrol moves to the training area, a plateau - at an altitude of almost 1,500 metres - where the snow is still very deep. Reichmeier briefs his men: "Our orders are to report on the training, the discipline and command and control of the unit and to assess its fitness to fight." Training in battlefield conduct and forms of manoeuvre is under way on a patch of open terrain.
Cpl. Olaf Hain spots the differences straightaway: "The line of troops does not withdraw in two sections like we do; the soldiers fall back one by one." In the background each recruit can be heard shouting "Pokrivaj" (cover) to notify that he is about to move to another position. Nearby, the soldiers from the patrol strike up conversations with the instructors. Later, during a break for a cigarette, they talk to the Bosnian conscripts. They, too, are relaxed, but respectful, and are interested in the G36 rifle.
School and Medical centre
But that is not the patrol's only mission today. It moves on to Delijas, a small village in which less than 200 people live. The patrol's job here is to distribute copies of the magazine 'Mirko' and bring utensils to the school. When the 'Wolves' pull up in front of the building, the children are playing football in the playground. They rush to the fence straightaway. Reichmeier calls out to them, "Dobar dan. Kako ste?" A female teacher welcomes him. The corridors are cold. "We are the only school in the canton that has not got proper heating," she says.
Here again, the patrol leader talks to members of the staff and pupils in a relaxed atmosphere. The 35 children at the school start to learn English in their second year of schooling and German in their fifth. The schoolbooks are then handed out and the children head off again down the icy corridors. In the classrooms, the younger children are thrilled to receive the things. Reichmeier asks where he can find the chairman of the local council, and the patrol is off again.
As they are leaving the school, the soldiers run into the nurse from the medical centre in Delijas. She tells them that the centre is short of bandages, medicines and rubber gloves. There is also a shortage of blood sugar test strips. These are needed because there are a lot of elderly people here with diabetes. The medical centre in Trnovo cannot procure them.
200KM a month
The patrol leader says good-bye and proceeds to the mosque, but he does not encounter anyone there. One local resident tells him that there is no imam and that Zajko Kantana takes care of everything. Someone is sent from Sarajevo for special occasions. Reichmeier finally visits the charcoal works, a bit out of the way, in a small sunny branch of the valley. There is no one to be seen at the charcoal kilns, which smell of cold smoke. But an elderly man then comes along and asks what the patrol would like to know. He recounts that he worked in the woods for 30 years, but that he does not have the physical strength to do so any more. So he is now employed at the charcoal works and earns 200KM (about 100 US$ or Euros) a month.
With these impressions, the soldiers leave Delijas and drive back through their patrol area to Rajlovac, for the report has to be written to allow the information obtained to be passed on. But it will not be long before they are out and about again, showing presence and providing the local people a little more help.

Related links:
Nations of SFOR: Germany
SFOR at Work

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Photos: Sgt. Lars Elstermann

En route to the mosque of Delijas.

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Against an impressive backdrop: Staff Sgt. Reichmeier briefs his patrol.

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At the medical centre in Delijas.

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In a class of sixth-graders.