Posts Tagged ‘1st Armor Division’

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.

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.


Learning to “Embrace the Suck”

January 11, 2016

Lessons I learned From My Executive Officer (XO).  Deploying about five hours from Bad Kreuznach Germany to the Grafenwoehr training area Germany, February 1995. We arrived at the training area back entrance perimeter road just as night was falling and found the route unimproved and loaded with snow and ice.

Our convoy consisted of HMMWV vehicles, 2 1/2 (deuce and a half) trucks and 5 ton wreckers.  All had to stop and chain up and the deuce and a half’s just would not cooperate.  Because it was getting late and the assembly area was not identified nor were there heated billets open and ready; as the battalion logistics office I was responsible so moved ahead with a small team to begin the coordination. We needed to have the footprint ready for the headquarters company and three signal companies headed in an hour plus behind us.

There were no company areas established, no tents, cots, warm food or latrines ready when we were finally guided to our battalion position. Most of our headquarters company column was still out on the road chaining truck tire chainup in the deep snow in the darkness and now I learned that the deuce and a half blew a tire in the process.  Three signal companies were converging from different routes on our location and we were not ready to receive them. Everyone including company commanders were complaining it was cold, their assigned terrain was crappy, there were no portable latrines, no miramite cans of hot food.

We all wanted to give up and just do nothing, catch some sleep sitting in our vehicles until the next day and the hell with the guys out there trying to replace those tire and get chained up.  That’s not the way operations works and one of the greatest lessons I learned from my XO was when things are at their worst you have to “put on your rucksack,” embrace the suck and keep going. I remember distinctly him saying “what do you want to do, just go lay down in the snow and die?” because there was no one else who is going to solve our problems.mermite cans

So little by little we made a list of all the things that need to get done that evening to get the battalion back on its feet, get all the soldiers and vehicles accounted for, coordinate for some sort of food, get the vehicles in place and refueled, set up perimeter security and find a warm barracks that we could use for the night and rotate soldiers for a sleep plan.  We sent out a reconnaissance to go find the remainder of the column on the backside of the training area and guide them into our assembly area. We sent out another reconnaissance to go meet with the training point of contact and find warm billeting for that evening. We distributed MREs for the meal that night and contacted the logistics support unit to bring in mobile latrines so soldiers could take care of themselves. tent in snow

I think that’s the thing about leadership – the leader has to be relentless in enforcing the standards for the organization; be willing to stand up and provide the direction to everyone else even when they don’t to do anything at all.  The leader has to have the confidence to stand up and say  “let’s get going, let’s get this done, and let’s move out.” Sometimes we all don’t want to keep on going and it would be much nicer to just stop, sit down and take a rest in place and try again tomorrow. That decision might be a killer one and the right thing to do is to get up and keep going, embrace the suck and always keep moving forward.

 During his Army career, the author served in a broad diversity of acquisition, command and staff positions and has combat experience in both Iraq and Afghanistan first deploying to Southwest Asia in 2004/05 then re-deployed to Kuwait and Afghanistan in 2006 and again to Kuwait and Afghanistan in 2008-2009. His last deployment was to Afghanistan summer of 2009 supporting the Combined Security Transition Command- Bosina 1995Afghanistan. His prior assignments include Executive Officer, Army Acquisition Support Center, Fort Belvoir, VA. Commander, Defense Contract Management Agency, Northrop Grumman, Azusa, CA, and Chief of Mission Support (Contingency Contracting) United States Army, South, Fort Clayton, Panama from where he traveled to and supported operations from Honduras, Nicaragua, and El Salvador. From 1988 to 1997, he served in a extensive range of operational command, leadership, and staff assignments in the 1st Cavalry Division, the 2nd Infantry Division (Korea), the 7th Infantry Division, and the 1st Armored Division (Germany and Bosnia).