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Tuzla, Bosnia
3 Mar 2000, Friday
One of the things that has been consuming my time these last few days is coordination between different elements of the headquarters that have a finger in the intelligence pie. You get all the power plays and empire building combined with people that just have no personality skills whatsoever. Sometimes it just makes things impossible to get done. It seems like a good chunk of time is taken up settling disputes and babysitting. I don't let it get to me and I make sure to "stay in my lane", but I do find it amusing. Especially since I'm still learning what is in my lane. I have discovered though that if I am not assertive in defining what my responsibilities are then there are others who would be more than happy to define and take over for me. Part of the problem is that this mission is so different from a traditional, conventional mission. It really takes a different mindset.

For instance, tonight I was walking back from chow when I heard an explosion on the base camp. Every instinct in my body screamed, "Lie prostrate on the ground and crawl to cover." I was in the middle of an intersection at the time and did start to drop into a crouch. Then I remembered all of our training at Ft. Hood that said in this kind of environment you don't want to drop because you could be in a minefield. While I knew I wasn't in a minefield, it still shocked me that I had all these thoughts so rapidly. I am certain that it was an EOD team blowing up a mine or unexploded ordnance they found on post.

A castle in the city of Tuzla, Bosnia.
Apparently they have discovered over 40 anti-personnel mines and other devices on Eagle Base in the past week or so. There is a lot of construction and we have gotten a lot of rain. Every time they dig something up, out pops another land mine. It really drives home the "stay on the path" lesson. I will not take any short cuts while I am here and it may take a little while once I'm home to learn that it is OK to walk on the grass again!

Tuzla, Bosnia
5 Mar 2000, Sunday
We had a conference this morning where all the intelligence officers for the different battalions and brigades briefed each other on their capabilities. This one had the Nordic Polish (NORDPOL) Battle Group intelligence officer, a jovial Polish major, brief. He was followed by a Russian lieutenant colonel. Then the Turkish assistant intelligence officer, a first lieutenant, spoke. It was wild to be in the same room as intelligence officers from all of those countries. Listening to the Russian brief was especially interesting. He didn't seem to speak English very well, so used an interpreter. Understanding that he didn't go into incredible detail and that the interpreter translated about two sentences for every five minutes of conversation, I know we did not get the whole story. But to sit there, listening to a Russian Lt. Col. explain the function and role of his intelligence organization was mind-boggling - not in content but in the very fact that it was happening. Who would have thought? This is a multinational peacekeeping division indeed.

Tuzla, Bosnia
6 Mar 2000, Monday
I saved the world from a shampoo bottle today! I was running during lunch, around the running track that goes by the airfield. As I was on the far side, I saw something about ten meters from the track. It was green, cylindrical, and definitely man-made. I stopped, jogged in place for a minute and then realized that I was looking at what very well could be an anti-personnel mine or grenade. After piling rocks at the edge of the trail to mark the spot, I finished my lap then headed over to the battalion headquarters.

Arriving all sweaty and out of breath, I asked for the mine identification posters that I had picked up at the Mine Action Center the day before. I couldn't identify the object, as there were numerous possibilities. It looked like several types of canister mines that could be connected to trip wires or a certain grenade. The procedure when you locate something that could be UXO (unexploded ordnance) or a mine is to notify the EOD detachment on Eagle Base. So, I did, giving them the standard nine-line report with the location and suspected type of munition. They told me to meet the team they were dispatching out at what is called four corners (the intersection of two main roads on base and about a two minute walk from our battalion area).

The EOD vehicle showed up - a heavy, up-armored HUMMWV. I jumped in and directed them to the spot where I located the item. I brought my visual aids with me and they laughed, saying most people can't even remember where they saw it...I took the one guy (it is a two man team) straight to the spot and pointed out the object. He couldn't tell what it was from the track so went back to the vehicle to get his binoculars and some other mine detection thing. I stayed back at the vehicle this time, being of no real use. He came back with a smile about five minutes later, saying "Before I tell you what it was ma'am, I have to say it was a good thing you called. I couldn't tell what this was and it looks just like a mine from ten meters away. It wasn't until I got right up to it that I could tell that it was a bottle." At this point, he produced a scummy green plastic bottle with a white cap! I had to laugh, but was still glad that I called it in. I would far rather have EOD tell me that it was just a shampoo bottle than see something, ignore it, and have someone get hurt. It was a good learning experience, too, as now I know exactly what to do should that situation ever confront me again! It was amusing though explaining to the others in the HQ that I had saved us all from a dangerous, plastic shampoo bottle ;-) The EOD guys told me all sorts of entertaining stories of things that they get called for, everything from an umbrella stand to an oil filter. Given the right angle and covering of mud, many mundane things can look quite vicious.

Tuzla, Bosnia
7 Mar 2000, Tuesday
I am now a qualified escort. Having successfully managed to get my charge into his seat at the right time and to receptions immediately afterwards, I've mastered the skill. I served as the escort for Major General Brims, the commander of Multinational Division Southwest. He was a tall, British general with sandy hair, probably in his late forties. There were five people in his party, two American majors, a British bodyguard and a British Captain that was his aide (who he kept trying to leave behind...jokingly). I had to make sure that he was where he needed to be and met the people that he was supposed to meet. Far from rocket science.

The division transfer of authority is complete and the 49th Armored Division, Texas Army National Guard is officially in command of Stabilization Force 7 (SFOR 7) in MND (N).

Tuzla, Bosnia
9 Mar 2000, Thursday
Today was Dave's birthday. I called him and discovered how wonderful it is to hear someone's voice, even after just this short time. Now I know why they are called 'morale' calls.

Tuzla, Bosnia
12 Mar 2000, Sunday
This is terrific. I've been off base for the past two days. On Friday, I participated in a convoy that went up to Doboj in the Nordpol Battle Group area of responsibility. It is about an hour and a half north west of Tuzla. The Nordpol Battle Group is comprised of Danes, Poles, Finns, Estonians, Latvians, and a smattering of others.

We drove through the dozens of small hamlets and tiny towns in various states of disrepair and rebuilding. Once again, crossing over into the Republica Srpska from the Federation, you noticed the shift to Cyrillic letters and the more indifferent attitude. Little kids still waved though, our convoy was only two Hummers so we weren't very threatening. Entering into the city of Doboj (and I define it as a city because it had a few stoplights and several high rise buildings), I was struck by the grayness of everything. Except for the women who seem to dye their hair bright colors in order to spice up the drab surroundings.

Tuzla, Bosnia
14 Mar 2000, Tuesday
I just got out of my Serbo-Croatian class, this is the second night. It goes for a week and a half. I'm really enjoying it, just from the standpoint of having to make my brain work a little bit at the end of the day. I'm picking up fairly quickly, but doubt I'll have that much of a chance to use the language, except for talking to the cleaning ladies.

Perhaps I'll go out with one of the teams in the near future and try speaking with the some of the people that approach the vehicles. They seem genuinely impressed when I try and speak what little I can already. I guess it is the effort that counts, eh? I tried to hold a mini-conversation with the photo shop girl the other day. She was very patient. It helps me to understand that we are not just here for training when I am not speaking English.

One of the disadvantages here is that we are so separated from the people for force protection reasons that we do not really have a chance to understand them. I know it is dangerous to identify too much with the local populace because then you can't remain objective as a peacekeeper, but I am naturally curious. I do maintain the detachment of knowing that I get to go home in seven months, but I still want to learn what I can while I'm here.

Tuzla, Bosnia
17 Mar 2000, Friday
We all wore green for St. Patrick's Day. Ha. Humor certainly helps in situations like this. Our battalion commander showed up to this evening's briefing wearing an antenna headband with springy shamrocks! There wasn't too much else we could do here to celebrate, other than drink our near beer. It's the little things you appreciate.

Tuzla, Bosnia
19 Mar 2000, Sunday
Snow was falling on and off all day, the crazy late-winter kind of snow, big and fluffy that only sticks around for a few minutes. There was a point where we had a few inches but the weather is just too warm for it to stick, hovering in the mid thirties.

We were missing one from our normal "Sopranos" crowd tonight. Second Lieutenant Hayes Preston is en route to Maryland where he just had a baby. He used to be an enlisted submariner in the navy and now is an intelligence officer. That is pretty normal in the National Guard, having soldiers who either used to be active duty or in another service. People tend to gravitate towards whatever units are around where they settle. And those units don't always specialize in their military skill. So, they learn a new one.

Tuzla, Bosnia
22 Mar 2000, Wednesday
I continue to be amazed at the aroma of burning trash that fills the air each morning. A Bosnian scratch-n-sniff book would be really gross: the pungent stench of burning refuse combined with mud and the light wafting scent of farm animals. There is a certain spot you can stand on base that the garbage smell hits you from the outskirts of Tuzla and the starch smell smacks you from the laundry facility (they use the most bizarre starch here). It almost makes your eyes water.

Tuzla, Bosnia
23 Mar 2000, Thursday
Things have a way of working out in the end the way they are supposed too, even if at the time, it seems like the most bizarre path to get there. You can just never tell what opportunities life will present you or how you will get from one point to the next. I do know that there is good in everything, it just takes longer to find it in some situations. Bosnia has allowed me in a short time to see deeper into people, recognizing their potential and beauty. It has also driven home how important friends and family are to my well-being.

Tuzla, Bosnia
24 Mar 2000, Friday
Only two more working days until Monday!

Tuzla, Bosnia
26 Mar 2000, Sunday
In the "I feel really old" category, this weekend was my tenth high school reunion. I was unable to attend due to a small, military conflict in scheduling. The sad thing is that I think I would rather be here than go back to my boarding school for the weekend. I'm over the anger and hostility part, it is more apathy. At least here I have the chance to make an impact on a country just by being part of a peacekeeping force. Plus, with nothing to spend my paycheck on, I'm saving some money and getting out of debt. Do we grow more cynical as we age?

Tuzla, Bosnia 27 Mar 2000, Monday I'm being careful to differentiate between what I can do something about and what I can't, the same with people, if they aren't worth my time, I don't let them stress me out. I don't mean that in a condescending way, more in the there are those that are always convinced of their own importance and seek to convince others of this as well by getting all spun up over silly little things. Those are the ones that I just let go right on by. I've taken a very Zen-like approach to things here. This is my reality for now, but it is not my life, future or career. I can learn from it but do not need to be consumed by it.

I have seen a whole new side of the world, getting outside the wire is key to maintaining perspective though or you could get stuck in the complacent mindset that makes this all seem like one big training exercise.

Tuzla, Bosnia
28 Mar 2000, Tuesday
I know I should think about what I want to do upon my return, but it is hard to look past the next few weeks here. It is still all so new and different. While I've eliminated options, I still haven't come up with my life strategy. There are many factors to consider. I will just have to keep an open mind and an eye out for opportunity. And do a lot of thinking before I decide. It would be nice to take some time out to figure it all out. Who knows?

One cannot dictate the army's timing. I'm missing my brother's college graduation and my cousin's wedding. Both are important events but not as big as the birth of a child. Many have made great sacrifices to be here. I admire them even as I work with them. Children will age by eight months before their parents return home. For young ones, that is a huge portion of their life. Selfless service.

Tuzla, Bosnia
30 Mar 2000, Thursday
Although far from tropical, it was actually a beautiful, yet still smelly, day here in Bosnia. Our convoy out to the castle at Srebrenik went very well. We left around 0930 and got up there just before 1100. The weather was gorgeous, birds were singing, the sky was blue and the clouds were white and puffy. Quite picturesque. Of course, I took a whole roll of film.

The trip up was neat. I had not been that route before. We passed a huge coal-processing factory, which added to the springtime aroma, many small villages with houses in various stages of disrepair (and fertilizer being spread over all the garden plots, and then into the decent sized town of Srebrenik. A little kid flipped us off on a side street in Srebrenik, but most people waved.

Driving up the mountain was a bit harrowing, the road incredibly narrow. We stopped as the road ended (well, it did continue in a dirt trail fashion, but nowhere near enough for three up-armored Hummers to continue along and then turn around) next to a little store.

Leaving two of the drivers back with the vehicles, the other ten of us trekked down to the castle (about one kilometer away from the parking area). Stopping to take numerous photos, I was stuck by the beauty of the location. Up that high, you couldn't see the litter in the countryside (or smell the heaps of refuse burning). All you saw were gently rolling hills, dotted with white houses with red tile roofs, orchards beginning to bud, haystacks propped up in the midst of fields and ravens circling the ruins of the centuries-old castle. Really quite breathtaking!

So was the next part, crossing the rickety wooden bridge that lead out to the castle itself. I was mentally thinking light, visualizing myself floating, while crossing the gaping holes in the planks hoping they would hold out for a few more hours. Of course, it was fine, but the adrenaline was pumping for a second. We set up the U.S. flag and the 629th MI Battalion flag in the top of the castle, all of us took many a photograph, and then I did the swearing in part of the re-enlistment. Very nice altogether. Amazingly, in the five months he has been here in Bosnia, this was the first time Sergeant Giannos had left Eagle Base. Not a bad way to do it either, scenic, a perfect day, a re-enlistment (he got a Hawaii option locked in and, because he's re-enlisting here, a tax-free $14,000 bonus), and a trip outside the wire.

When we all arrived back at the vehicles, a group of kids had gathered around asking for anything and everything. They were cute and you want to help them, but technically we aren't supposed to as it might show favoritism to one ethnic group over another accidentally. Telling soldiers not to give kids candy is like telling an 18-year old that he can't hit on chicks in the bar on Saturday night. They got donuts and water and candy and pens and whatever else we could spare.

One thing that surprised me was that they all asked, "Give me pen, for school." Apparently, school supplies are so scarce here they have to share writing utensils and go to school in shifts so that they can share the books. One little bugger asked for a pen, so I gave him the only one I had on me. Several of his little friends then asked me for pens too, I had to tell them that I didn't have any more. The first kid then circled around and got a pen from our driver. I saw him and laughed, shaking my finger at him, took the second pen and told him to give it to one of his friends as he already had one. I think he had a pen racket going on, get pens then sell them to the other kids later. This country will be fine in a few years with entrepreneurs like that on the rise!

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