Wandering nomads in 'Ruins Rebirth 3' Exercise

2Lt. Agustín López Marín
First published April 25, 2003

From 17 to 19 April 2003, diverse units belonging to the Spanish-French Battle Group (SPFRBG), Multinational Brigade Southeast (MNB-SE), performed several activities included in the 'Ruins Rebirth 3' Exercise. This operation took place in the opstinas (municipalities) of Nevesinje, Gacko, Bileca and Berkovici. The main goal was to deploy all units on the field and conduct normal tactical and CIMIC activities through a mobile command post.

Gacko - The staff was installed in Kula, a hamlet situated five kilometres from Gacko. There was a frenetic activity to establish the tactical command post and to maintain continuous communication with all the Companies through dedicated signal vehicles. French Capt. Ronan de Cadoudal, S-3 current operations officer, controlled the exercise. "This operation allowed us to develop our normal activities, leading the subordinated units from a mobile command post. Besides, we can demonstrate SFOR's presence in the area, assess the BG operational abilities and strengthen our cohesion and methods of working; at the same time, familiarise our units with the area," he stated.
Co-operation with local army
On Apr. 17, the Spanish Infantry Marine Coy had to monitor an air defence firing exercise performed by the Army of the Republika Srpska (Vojska Republike Srpske, VRS) in the 'Bilecki Borci' barracks, located in Bileca. Lt. David Alarcón Nicolás, 2nd platoon, commanded the unit in charge of this task. "The VRS requested for training dry firing of three pieces AA Guns-30/2 and four AA Guns-20/3. Our mission today is to verify that this action is in accordance with the Instructions to Parties (ITP) and conducted only during the approved times. This agreement means that it is not possible to use live AAA ammunition in the area where training is taking place. Also, we ensure that blank or dummy round, pyrotechnics and laser devices are not used in the simulation. At the end of the dry firing training period, air defence weapons and equipment are stored in secured storage sites," explained Alarcón.
Cpl. David Berlanga Olalla added: "The pieces were repositioned within the barracks' area, and training was developed without radar activation. With the aiming systems, soldiers followed a small plane, which went between two towers. I have to admit that VRS officers showed a cordial and compliant attitude, with co-operation and transparency."
Troopers in the snow
The same day, the Spanish Light Cavalry Squadron (SPLCS) had to check the practicability of Riesling Route between Gacko and Suha, and to evaluate the Border Crossing Point (BCP) 206 with Montenegro situated in Skiljevica Poljana (25-km northwestern of Gacko). This point has a special handicap: during the spring, when leaving the vehicles on the road, soldiers have to use snowshoes and Global Positioning System (GPS) during the last 10km First Lt. José Ortega Cegarra led the 4th platoon. "We gather information about the main features in every BCP; for instance, accessible tracks, location, attitude of local police, facilities, etc. In this case, this point is abandoned, but our main objective is to intensify the surveillance in mountainous roads to prevent illegal gun-running and smuggling activities," explained Ortega.
After long hours of walking in a rugged landscape and once BCP 206 was reached, the troops earned a rest in the camp, but there was another surprise for them. Sgt. 1st Class David García Cester commented: "When we managed to arrive back to our vehicles, close to the road, I noticed that my soldiers were exhausted. But one of the BMRs (Armoured Personnel Carrier) was stuck in the muddy terrain, so we had to prepare a complicated recovery operation to recover this vehicle. For the guys from the 4th platoon, this was another way to overcome the weariness."
Simulated attack
Capt. Martial Courtot, French Infantry Coy (FIC), had to accomplish a different type of mission during this period. "My camp is situated in the vicinity of Ovcare, and my platoons check the practicability of the route between Granice and Mahala. Furthermore, we have to carry out a tactical live firing exercise with APCs in Macipolje range, and to prepare a Harvest operation in the opstina of Nevesinje. Meetings will take place with all responsible people as major, local police, Army, radios and some SPFR BG representatives, in order to establish timetable and features for this harvest. We are now distributing announcements by handbills and posters. On the other hand, we continue developing an ambitious plan of CIMIC (Civil-Military Co-operation) activities," stated Courtot.
In the early morning of Apr. 18, all platoons assigned to the FIC performed a live firing exercise. First Lt. Carriaud explained: "Every platoon will develop the activity using VAB (APC), VBL and P-4 vehicles. Troops will train firing with machine guns, VAB 12.70mm gun, 112mm antitank rockets, FAMAS rifles and PGM 12.70mm sniper rifles. It is an opportunity to check the capabilities of our unit."
First Lt. Jean-Sebastien Lhuillier, 1st platoon, commented: "The action simulates a situation in which an allied intelligence unit is attacked by some hard-liners from a extremist party. The mission for every platoon is to deploy its squads to protect the return movement of the allied unit and, at the same time, to respond to the fire through a combination of bounds from the armoured vehicles and dismounted actions from the crew."
A hand of hope
First Lt. Serge Barbaize was responsible for the CIMIC actions. "We are focusing on the Muslim families of returnees. Recently, we conducted medical treatment with dentists in some villages around Nevesinje. Also, in the future, there is a project to obtain a bus for children from these hamlets. While we gather information about the current situation among these families, we deliver firewood, meal, warm clothes, shoes, toys, etc.," he said.
"We often visit small villages; this afternoon, it was the one Muslim returnee family in Lakat, North of Nevesinje. They explained us that there were no conflicts with Bosnian-Serb residents from the neighbourhood. Local police are present daily. Before the war, 25 Bosniac families lived here, and some of them envision coming back to this village. They need special tools and items to cultivate the ground and breed cattle. Both B-Serb and Bosniac families assess SFOR's presence and activities as favourable. That motivates us in our daily work to provide a safe environment and an improvement of their lives," concluded Barbaize.

Related links:
Nations of SFOR: France, Spain
Training and Exercises

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Photos: Sgt. Toni McDowell

Lt. Alarcón (2nd l.) and Lt. Bodiroga (c.) speak about the supervision task.


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The 4th platoon managed to recover one BMR from the boggy terrain.


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Capt. Courtot appraises the skills of his troops.


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Marksmen had the opportunity to practice with their specific weapons.


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Lt. Ortega (r.) and Sgt. 1st Class Freire lead the trip to the BCP 206.


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Crews of APCs had to dismount to carry out the live firing exercise.


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Lt. Carriaud (r.) advises the antitank fighter.


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Lt. Barbaize (c.) and interpreter Ivanovic (l.) talk with the Bosniac family from Lakat.


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VRS Sgt. 1st Class Jovovic explains to the Spanish soldiers the anti-air weapon features.