DEFENDING AMERICA
David H. Hackworth
23 January 1996

"IT'S GONNA BE A LONG YEAR"

I spent last week just South of the Sava river in North Eastern Bosnia with Co. "A," 3d BN, 5th Cav Regt. These mechanized infantry warriors have the task of making the Dayton Peace Accord work.

Company "A" is commanded by Captain Kevin Volk, a quiet and serious West Pointer, and the Top Kick is Tony Stoneberger, a casting director's dream for a "From Here To Eternity" regular army 1st Sgt.

It's one of the sharpest and most disciplined units I've ever seen. They're total pros. I never saw a soldier out of uniform, a dirty weapon, an unalert warrior or heard a leader raise his voice. They click with the precision of a professional football team.

Their morale is high despite conditions which are horrific: boot top mud everywhere, walk-in freezer cold and hellish conditions, but they stand tall in the turrets of their Bradley Fighting Vehicles, on watch and on patrol, with the wind turning them blue.

They haven't had a shower since 1 January. Their food is either MRE -- soldier slang: Meals Refused by Ethiopians -- or out of a can, and when not on guard duty or patrol they sleep in their vehicles or in crowded, unlighted tents. They work 16 to 18 hours a day.

They're set up in a muddy field in a blown away and ethnically cleansed Croat village in Serb controlled Ulice, Bosnia that they appropriately call "Desolution Gulch."

Every house in Ulice is bullet riddled, blown up and trashed. The roofing timber was liberated long ago by the Serbs to be used as fortification material in their now abandoned trenches.

Their mission is to stop the fighting by keep the warring factions apart and to make the former combatants clear all the mines in the battle area.

And mines litter the area. One of their attached tanks hit aN AT mine on my second day with them tearing off a track and leaving a hole almost big enough to bury a dishwasher. There were no casualties. The next day another tank rolled over a mine, again there were no casualties.

During the first few days here before they made the two combatants move out, the Serbs and the Muslims sniped at each other with small arms fire. Platoon Sgt. Stillman Maxwell says "They also gave each other unfriendly gestures" (like the "bird") but they haven't messed with us. They know we've got too much firepower."

Captain Volk says "The reception we've received from the Serb soldiers has been warm and friendly." Volk meets with the Serb CO nightly, in a smoked filled room, and, after a gutfull of stomach wrenching thick, Turkish coffee, works out the wrinkles of the day. He politely refuses the Plum Brandy explaining that U.S. IFOR soldiers are not authorized to drink alcohol.

The only serious bitch I heard while with these gallant grunts was about Gen. George Joulwon's, no beer policy. A squad leader summed up the unit's collective feeling with: "It sucks."

Neither does Sgt. James Cotton, have kind words for the rear echelon commandos. He says "The REMFs (Rear Echelon Misfits) bitch about living in warehouses while we're living in NO Man's Land without zilch. Give me a break!"

Cotton's right. It's always the grunt who is last in the line. While the Army builds heated tents for the REMFs, sets up PXs at their Tuzla base, and deploys press detachments from the states aboard critical aircraft space the grunt shuffles through the mud and take it all in his proud stride.

The Army has set up AT and T lines in Tuzla for the press, but it took 14 days before the warriors of Co. "A" got their first letters from home. "The Stars and Stripes" newspaper is read by all in the rear, but it rarely finds it's way to the men of Company "A". Talk about priorities.

Cpl. Mike Emory wife, Angie, sent him a Christmas present -- a bulletproof vest. She has her priorities right!

I hope, before I join the Big Ranger in the sky, the U.S. Army gets it's priorities right and starts taking care of the grunts.

It's a principle of leadership that's given only lip service by the top brass.