Archive for March, 2016

Its a Funny Thing Memory and a Cigarette Box

March 14, 2016

cig bobby trapMemory association can be a funny thing. Take for example an empty cigarette box laying on the sidewalk during a morning run.  For most “normal” people all they see is an empty paper box that should be thrown in the trash can, but for some of us who went through deployment training as part of the Implementation Force (IFOR) NATO-peace enforcement force (Bosnia and Herzegovina Operation Joint Endeavour), what I see is a potential booby trap.  Before heading into Bosnia to join some 54,000 troops from 32 countries we trained for week at the Europe-based Combat Training Center (CTC) Hohenfels Training Area, Germany. Field training in freezing January in Germany is a “thrill” to say the least.  The block of instruction I remember best involved hand made booby traps now thanks to Iraq and Afghanistan are officially renamed “Improvised Explosive Devices” (IEDs).

This training was necessary because United Nations estimates at the time were that Bosnia has been seeded with four to eight million land mines (later doubled) with many turned into booby traps. US Army’s First Armored Division Public Affairs talked with the New York Times back in 1995 and said “there’s a wide variety of mines, from high tech mines all the way to crude, hastily fabricated mines,” and “Some of the mines are handmade –land mine sign croatian– out of wooden boxes.” Did you know that former Yugoslavia was one of the few countries that proudly promoted manufactured booby-trapped items like flashlights, fountain pens and door handles? Me neither – talk about mission suck! So we had to train to recognize potential booby traps and mines. I really wasn’t worried about myself setting off a booby trap, but I did worry constantly that one my 60 soldiers in my Company Command or those driving our soft side HMMWV’s all around Bosnia would set off a mine. I knew we were planning on establishing communication systems in lots of building, mountain tops and other places that were likely mined or booby trapped.

So what’s the big deal with an empty cigarette box, or a block of wood or even and empty soda can sitting there so innocently on your path to work?  Well they all can be tied with a nearly invisible fishing line that is attached back to a tree, door or wall mounted explosive device. Once you pick up or kick that item our of the way (hey, who doesn’t kick a rock or stick off a path?) the dummy item pulls the line pin and the device explodes. Devices were often set about waist level, to cause the greatest amount of physical damage. Image US Army Survival Regulationfrags

To get some idea of the extend of mines and traps when I arrived at Tuzla Main in January 1995, our first safety brief off the plane was that the base has been heavily mined. That’s why all of the forests on the base are ringed with loops of barbed wire and wooden stakes painted red warning of mine fields. We had mine fields just dozen feet from my tent and reminded ourselves daily about the danger on our walk to and from work.  In Bosnia, concrete was your friend any anything else could be mined. The second point was don’t stand up on the protective berms around the base because you will be silhouette and sniper target.  Wow- what a great welcome to Bosnia!

tree mount

Its amazing how creative people can become when it involves killing other people.  This diagram was taken from the USMC Pamphlet on Viet Cong use of Mines and Booby Traps during the Vietnam War.  Obviously after years and years of civil war within the former Yugoslavia, the various factions had perfected their craft. Note to self on the situation shown below – leave the watch alone.

In sessions conducted in 1995 before leaving for Bosnia, our training was to touch nothing that we didn’t own and to go nowhere that has not been cleared with mine sweepers.  The Bosnia mantra was if you didn’t drop it – don’t pick it up.” Good advice because according to the UN site dedicated to monitoring land mines, the initial estimate of total land minesanti-tankmine2 was more than doubled to seven million mines in Bosnia. Looking back at the data in the former Yugoslavia after a year in country 1996, antipersonnel landmines killed 42 Peacekeepers and injured Note to self on the situation above – leave the watch alone.  alone.315. https://www.icrc.org/eng/resources/documents/misc/57jn74.htm

Bringing it back around to memory and association, while we cant help but immediately recall our training and experiences given certain stimuli, we can step back from the memory “jolt” and say, “I am so glad none of my troops were injured.” I appreciate that any negative memories are worth this price because we were successful in stopping the regional genocide that by 1995 had claimed the lives of some 100,000 people reported as the worst act of genocide since World War II. http://www.history.com/topics/bosnian-genocide

 

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