tagLoving Wives1995: Fucking Around in Bosnia

1995: Fucking Around in Bosnia

bygggsss1962©

I landed in Bosnia just after Christmas 1995.

Karin was not so happy about it, but she was perfectly aware I desperately needed a professional break from the General Staff and to feel back on the field.

UNPROFOR was still in charge when I first arrived in Zagreb from Naples with the very first wave of NATO personnel. CINCSOUTH created a small G1 (Personnel Office) detachment in the Airport to manage the flow of people that was coming to replace the wavering UN people, who finally admitted their failure after the Srebrenica massacre and the following NATO air intervention.

In the container I found a Norwegian Major, a British Captain and a French NCO; the Sergeant was sitting on a corner looking sad, while the two officers were working happily together.

I reported in English to them, and nicely discovered that my first night in Theatre was not going to be in a field accommodation, but in a nice hotel instead... Only I had to pay for it.

Fair enough. I was going to leave, when the Nordic guy asked me weather I could muster some French too.

"I do," I answer, "Why?"

"Well," the UK captain said, "We are here since two days now, and we could not even tell our French comrade welcome, since he doesn't speak a word of English, and we don't of French either."

The WO was actually so pleased to hear two words in his own language he could almost cry. So good for the Alliance communication policy...

The hotel was gorgeous. It didn't seem appropriate to me, being on my way to the most troubled spot Europe had seen since 1945, but I appreciated it anyway.

The city of Zagreb was in pretty good conditions, and seemed to have recovered pretty well since the destructions of 1992. The Croats had reconquered their land to the Serbs just a couple of months before, and you could feel the pride of a population who believe they just won a war.

NATO came to their help arming them and bombing their enemies, but the attitude towards us seemed a mixed feeling of curiosity and resentment, since we came so late and just in time to steal them total victory.

The day after I left Zagreb with a UN flight I will never forget. It was an old, soviet-vintage Ukrainian Ilyushin, coached by a drunken Canadian crew hired on the cheapest market UN could find... Let's forget it.

We toured the whole theatre: Tuzla, Sarajevo and Split. Split was the old UK logistic base for the Commonwealth contingents within UNPROFOR, and was going to be also the logistic base for the Multinational Division South-West of NATO Implementation Force (IFOR), due to arrive in the next few days.

Contrary to what they told me in Zagreb, nobody was ready to receive me there: they were much too busy waiting for their own people, and I found myself on my own there, with my combat gear and two hundred kilometres from my destination.

The typical Infantryman problem, since Themistocles.

OK. I was considering starting marching, when I got hold of a country fellow of mine in a (rented?) UN vehicle.

"Hi," he greeted me from the window, "You're the first of our people I see around here. Any idea weather the coast road is cleared up?"

"Dunno for sure, but I think it's pretty safe by now. Are you heading to Ploce?"

"Yep. I'm a freelance journalist, and want to be there when our guys are going to land. Supposed to be in a coupla' days, right?"

"That's right. You're travelling alone?"

"Yeah. Hope it's safe enough."

"Let's have a deal... You informally give me a lift, and I'll informally escort you."

"Deal."

That's how I made it to Ploce on time.

Nice trip, quite long but interesting. Not much war damage around: the Serbs never made it through the mountains to the coast, and Croat Police and National Guard managed to secure it very early during the war, since Dalmatian population was overall sympathetic to Zagreb and hostile to Belgrade.

Nature was beautiful, only there was quite a lot of garbage around... I was going to see a lot of it in the coming months. Waste disposal is one of the very first things to disappear at the outbreak of a war, and one of the last to get re-organized.

Ploce was a disappointment. It was a "modern" built, communist-style harbour town, planned to serve as Sarajevo port. Population was a mix of different nationalities, mostly former Party families resettled under Tito. During the early months of the war, the Croat Police managed to surprise and overwhelm the small local Yugoslav garrison and joined the young fledging republic; later on, the Yugoslav Army and the Serbs came quite close, but never reached it, and the final counter offensive pushed them both quite inland, definitely land-locking the Bosnian Serbs and creating one of the main problems settled at Dayton after NATO intervention.

It was no cute Dalmatian village, rather a gloom communist-style lot of concrete buildings thought to represent workers' paradise and due to represent their hell.

The French had built a logistic base there, like the Brits did in Split, to resupply their UN-committed troops, and were going to convert it into a NATO base for the Multinational Division South-East, a joint venture between them, the Germans and us. It was located inside the harbour; actually it occupied most of the port facilities area, including an area for helilanding and quite a big container city used by UN troops and due to receive incoming NATO forces.

I said goodbye to the freelance journalist and prepared myself to discuss with our proud cousins.

It was easier than I thought: they had my name on a list of our people scheduled to be based there, and created me no problems, being quite pleased indeed to

discover I could speak some French. Otherwise despised foreigners tend to assume quite a higher status for the French if they can speak their language. Plus, they sounded quite pleased to have us in their same Division: it was their first NATO mission ever, and they were happy not to be forced into too much English business.

An orderly took me directly to the Commander (a three-stripes-plus-one, which I assumed to be a Lieutenant Colonel, reasonably in charge of that Logistic Unit), who happily greeted me and called an NCO to lead me to get my inprocessing done.

It came out that the person in charge there was a female, a young Captain like me called Claire, terribly busy to change all administration and records from the UN standard to NATO ones. Even Logistic files were incompatible, since UN works with Macintosh and NATO with Microsoft...

I got a container all for myself, with the agreement I was going to share it with another incoming Officer of ours, then I filed in for a security ID card to freely enter the camp, and I went to the Harbour section to liaise for the arrival of our ships.

It was strange to be the only one with my own uniform in the whole area; I felt proud and worried at once to be the very first of us (although there was already an Advance Party in Sarajevo) in Theatre, in the very hearth of the collapsed nation we feared for the whole Cold War and that was not anymore.

The world had changed so much in the last few years!

I spent two days reconnoitring the area, booking the national compound area, marking the position for our logistic elements and setting my own workstation. I met my French counterpart, already in Theatre, and my British one, who arrived the day after me: two Navy guys, both of them senior to me in age and rank but quite nice... I must admit, often Navy people are more friendly than Army ones to foreign counterparts. I immediately had to start translating for them understanding each other... A Spaniard was going to join our small liaison group ASAP.

I also managed to borrow a French telephone and call home to talk with Karin, who was sound and safe, working hard as a coach hostess down in Rome.

I was already missing her. My mind and my hearth were already lounging for my first leave, when I could finally hold her back in my arms, and my body was already suffering for the abrupt stopping of our hectic sex life...

There were a few female in the French base. Besides Claire, there were a number of NCOs and privates in the small hospital, including a specifically pretty young nurse, who was permanently surrounded by a swarm of male colleagues in pursuit.

Nice to look at, but not too smart to talk to, and anyway, it was quite clear to me it was not a good idea to mess around with female junior foreign personnel.

The third day a ship of ours landed the advance party of our Logistic Battalion, and I was not the only one any longer. The captain in charge was a Stefano, very nice guy with a pretty good logistic experience, who was delighted to find me already in place with all agreements already taken with the French unit.

Being already accustomed to our cousins, I took charge to help with their inprocessing, settled in the French HQ and started filling in files and assigning IDs and slots in the camp.

French rank insignia are quite different from all the others European (or US) ones, and due to the fact that our cousins normally don't indulge into NATO cooperation or activities, we are not working together very much; so I had no real clue about their lookouts.

I assumed the Unit was a Logistic Battalion, and it made sense to me the Battalion Commander was a Lieutenant Colonel, wearing three-stripes-plus-two. I assumed that two-stripes-plus-one was a Major and so on.

While I was working in the HQ, I noticed a bunch of quite elder guys also with three-stripes-plus two, only with alternated yellow-and-white colours; since our senior NCOs are like that (red-and-yellow), I marked them as such. While filling in files for our newcomers, I just grabbed one of them and tasked him to make me a few photocopies of a format.

The guy looked at me quite surprised, and then trotted to the copy machine. I smiled thinking of his surprise that I could actually deliver orders in French, and then resumed my work.

I raised my eyes and noticed Claire, staring at me in disbelief.

"What's up?" I asked.

"But... Are you guys normally talking like that to senior officers?"

"What you mean?" I countered, feeling a bit unease already, "He was an NCO, wasn't he?"

"Not at all!" she was really astonished, "He is the Lieutenant Colonel in charge of the Administration: my boss."

I flushed: "Damnit! I thought Lieutenant Colonels were three-stripes-plus-two."

"That's what he wears."

"In alternate colours."

"In the same colours it means a full Colonel."

"Oh. So, this is a Regiment..."

"Of course."

A very small one indeed... "But there are at least ten Lieutenant Colonels around."

"Of course."

"I see... But why did he obey my order so fast?"

"He must think that, with your three white stars, you're a US Lieutenant General..." she smiled.

I laughed, then I apologised embarrassed when the old guy came back with my copies, but he muttered something and went away.

That's how I broke the ice with Claire.

It had been so funny we bubbled around it for quite a while working out together the inprocessing of my people and the assignment of our compound within the port compound. Contrary to most of her (and mine) countrymen, Claire also spoke some English, so the conversation was quite easy and, if required, reserved.

When we were over, she asked me whether I was ready for lunch. I nodded and we headed for the container-built common canteen.

While walking, just as a little talk, we matched our seniorities, and it turned out I was senior to her of a couple of years (she was actually a captain since barely a year).

We reached the canteen; I reached for the door and opened it for the lady to go in.

Claire was suddenly mad.

"What the hell do you think? We just saw you are senior to me... Just open and go in, otherwise I should open for you. You just demonstrated you see me just as a woman, rather than a colleague!"

Gosh, I was embarrassed. We still had no women at all in the Army (they were about to join the Academy at the time, but it would take a few more years before they were around in the combat units), and got no idea about how to deal with them.

I tried to explain her, while apologising. After my years with Karin I was not used anymore to Latin temper...

She calmed down and we entered.

While eating, I started studying her. About thirty, just a couple of centimetres shorter than me, pale-skinned, black-haired, quite a breast under the camouflaged battledress. Nothing special, but not bad either.

Claire was married, and her husband was actually also in the Army. Younger than her, he was a Lieutenant, and based quite far away: New Caledonia, in the French Pacific.

"Wow," I wondered, "But how often you see each other?"

"It's not easy. We were both based in Provence, but he left last month, and I was sent here as a reinforcement last week. My mission is going to be six months, and then I will try to reach him finding a posting for myself there... Overseas assignments like that usually last about three years."

"Too bad. My wife at least is only a couple of hours' flight away."

"It doesn't help much, does it?" she asked, "You are stuck here..."

"Yeah, and she is stuck in Rome. But if the situation cools down, we might get some leave in three months."

"Let's hope so... Cheers!"

The first proper convoy of our Navy arrived in late December. There was quite a swarm of journalists to record the landing of the 8th Bersaglieri Regiment in Former Yugoslavia: platoon after platoon, the armoured vehicles rumbled down the ships' ramps and strolled away to the parking lot in the staging area within the harbour compound.

I met the Commander and I was asked to deliver a short briefing to the staff and the company commanders about the current situation in Ploce and along the road, and then went with the advance guard to recon the route to Mostar.

When I was back, I had the happy surprise to see that Stefano's boys had installed telephones near our quarters to call home. From then on, I was in daily contact with Karin, and felt quite better.

Our base within the harbour compound was operational even if still far from being finished, and also the Logistic Battalion was swelling up.

Our combat units kept on arriving as for the schedule: 31st Armoured Regiment, "Cavalleggeri Guide" Cavalry Regiment, 18th Bersaglieri Regiment...

I was pretty busy. Reconnaissance and liaison were quite a commitment in those early days of the mission, while NATO ground forces were pouring into the Theatre of Operations overlapping over thin, battered UN troops and deploying along the main Lines of Communication.

There was no resistance from the Serbs; some attempts to slow down our deployment with passive means was deterred by a few very low overflights of NATO attack aircrafts just over the Serb troops, which sent the right message home.

The trickiest event of those days was when our tanks moved north of Mostar, on their way to Sarajevo: the Neretva Bridge was long gone, and the French had built a pontoon bridge of theirs to connect the banks... Only, being the French not up to date with NATO standards and being their tanks lighter than ours, their bridge class was not high enough for Leopards. Nobody thought of that back in Rome or in Brussels. And I was responsible for the crossing...

My God, I was nervous! The most senior of the Regiment NCOs jumped on the front Leopard, kicked out the crew and started moving along the bridge... Which bobbed and bounced like it was on the point of breaking, but didn't.

One after the other, painfully slowly, all the tanks crossed, and I started breathing again.

Good job: the first NATO armoured unit was on its way to Sarajevo, and nothing else could really stop it.

I needed a drink after that, and when I was back in Ploce I asked Claire if she would join me.

We were allowed to leave the compound within Croatian territory, so we just walked out in full battledress and with sidearms. We found a small Italian-style café and had a bitter, talking freely under the unfriendly look of the locals.

It was so funny: we thought Croats should love us. We recognised their independence; we helped them, took losses sending peacekeepers from EU, covertly armed and trained their new Army, and finally came in with bombers and heavy troops to crush their foes... But no, this wasn't their point of view: they thought we Europeans didn't do enough (which is quite through) for too long, and then NATO did too much too late, jumping in just when the Croat Army was routing the Serbs almost everywhere, and actually steal the victory from them.

Points of view, I suppose.

Quite a few of French soldiers were around the streets too, and in moved a small party of them, including the pretty nurse.

Claire didn't like her: too much slutty, she said.

"I tried to talk to her, but she is one of those types who believe she's earning comradeship by behaving like boys: swearing, drinking, and smoking, fighting and fucking around. But all what she's getting is to be the slut of the Regiment... Are you interested?"

"Er..." I muttered, "I don't know. When I meet a woman, I usually like to talk too, you know. I'm not twenty anymore, and human relationships get some importance to me, above pure sex."

Claire smiled, and I realised I just scored a point.

"Besides," I added, "I have the feeling there is not much talk to her."

Claire smile widened: "You're quite correct. The girl hasn't the brightest head in the world."

"Young boys are not concerned about that..." I smiled, pointing at her companions.

"No," Claire agreed, "But they should be more concerned about her legs... They are as thick as an oak."

I knew she was true: I had seen Fabienne (the young nurse) jogging in shorts, and actually she was lovely from the waist up, but got a disgraceful pair of legs.

I chose that moment to sound charming: "I suppose a captain ten years older can easily have better ones, right?"

Claire flushed: "You bet."

Enough with flirting for the day.

That night I made love with Karin by phone and reached my container.

Stefano was in, cleaning his pistol: "I saw you out with our French colleague."

"Yeah," I said, "She's nice company. And I swear you, she's better than any of you guys to be out with..."

"I hope so. At least she's not a male. Lucky bastard, you can talk to her."

"Just my dialect, it sounds pretty much like French I suppose."

***

IFOR deployment continued without incidents.

Stefano's unit was soon up to strength, and there was no space anymore for the incoming troops, so we started building up a transit camp in Mostar Airport, where the Multinational Division HQ was going to be, together with most of French troops. The Spaniards were south of it, the Germans a bit north, and we were far north, in Sarajevo proper, together with the Force HQ.

Mostar was a disgraceful place: there was so much dust in summer as mud in winter, and an impressive number of mines scattered everywhere. It was a dangerous spot also for another reason: after repelling the Serbs together, Croats and Bosniaks had clashed against each other, fighting a bitter and bloody civil war within the civil war for over two years, cutting the city in two and properly devastating the very city centre. Since the problem was at the edges of the Dayton Agreement, the rivalry between the two otherwise allied factions was still all there, and snipers were still working along the boundary line between the two communities.

Since Ploce was now assessed as a safe spot, I started working more and more in Mostar, again liaising between our troops and the local French HQ and gathering information about the surroundings and the route to Sarajevo.

It was no easy job. The last day of the year I was there with my British colleague. We were actually crossing the Plaza de Espana, so called because many Spanish soldiers from UN died there during the war, when we heard a quite distinguishable crack, followed by an even more distinguishable zwwinnng, and I pushed my Navy friend to the ground.

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