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City to city with the Red Ball Express

by JOC(AW) Tony Joseph

First published in SFOR Informer #18, September 3, 1997

photo 1T.JPG (12697 bytes)Visegrad - Children were excited, adults sometimes pleased, other times indifferent, and then, once-in-awhile downright hostile. The men and women of the SFOR Combined Joint Information Campaign Task Force (CJICTF) paid notice to these attitudes, as they moved briskly and enthusiastically through a recent mission to several Bosnia and Hercegovina (BiH) towns and cities.

This group is part of the Sarajevo-based Brigade Informational Support Element (BISE 30). Their unit is known as the Red Ball Express, a key part of SFOR’s Information Campaign.

"We receive a lot better reception from kids," says SSgt. Thomas Bercher, a Red Ball Express Team Leader. He adds, "their minds are not made up, unlike many adults."

"Our view is that people in many of the places we visit would still like to be neighbours," states Sgt. Gwyn Barber. She adds, "everyone has interesting stories, and it is important that we are able to meet people directly." Bercher and Becker agree. Bercher says, "the people here have lost so much and just want to end the conflict that exists, even today." Becker adds, "in our case (the Red Ball crew isphoto2T.JPG (11710 bytes) entirely American), people may not agree with American politics, but people are people. If they are willing to accept that, we have a start."

This trip took Red Ball through Rogatica, Visegrad, Gorazde, Rudo, Mrsovo and Borike. The reception the five team members received varied according to whether they were riding through Republika Srpska (RS) or Bosnian-Croat Federation territory. In Gorazde, for example, children and adults alike accepted Herald of Progress and Superman Mine Awareness magazines enthusiastically.

"The kids here will help distribute these," states a smiling Sgt. Rebecca Owens. "They will hand out as many as we give them, they have a good time with us, and we with them. We enjoy our time here," she continues.

In Visegrad, the reception was much colder and many people avoided the Red Ball crew. It seemed to go easier for the female team members than the males.

The group gave away school supplies at a school in Mrsovo. They spoke to a school professor and his wife, Serbians who feel victimised by the war. Like many they lost family members and friends. Still, they welcomed the Red Ball Express team into their home, serving coffee and conversation where views were freely exchanged. At Rudo another school visit and a give-away of clothing led to another coffee and conversation session bringing an end to a day which, the members of the Red Ball Express all agreed, had been a fully satisfying one.

[US soldier]

[The work of SFOR]