DEFENDING AMERICA
David H. Hackworth
9 January 1996

CLIMBING OUT TO THE RUBBLE

Sarajevo, Bosnia -- What a difference peace has made to this city. In 1992, the aircraft that brought me into the, then, besieged and raging inferno, hotlanded and tossed out the passengers and cargo and zoomed out of the field of fire.

As I ran from the C-130, mortar rounds thudded down all over the airstrip. I dove into a bunker. There was no one in sight. Thud, thud, thud cracked the rounds zinging out: Welcome to Sarajevo!

Back then, Sarajevo was a hot place in hell where it was easy to slide into a bodybag. The streets were deserted and everyone moved fast to avoid the incoming mortar, artillery and sniper fire. The only vehicles that used the streets were U.N armored cars. There was the smell of death everywhere and the people wore the 1000 yard stare of combat infantryman on scared faces.

Today, after IFOR's arrival, it's not Disneyland, but a far different place. All the big guns are quiet and there's no need to duck and weave and crawl inside a steel pot.

Sarajevo is mending ever so slowly, after being pummeled with over 2,000,000 rounds. Only a few structures escaped the shell and shot. The city reminds me of Berlin or Dresden in 1946: battered, burned and scarred.

The city, composed of extraordinary valiant Muslim, Serb and Croatian citizens, seems chirpy, full of bustle and the people stride the streets with the proud dignity of a WWII infantryman on leave in Rome after a long hitch on the line. All seem to want the war over and to get on with their lives.

I came to Sarajevo to interview the IFOR high sheriff for peace, Admiral "Snuffy" Smith.

Within the first few minutes of our meeting Smith's XO, USN Captain Rusty Petrea, handed Smith a spot report. "Snuffy" read it, shaking his head, saying in a soft Alabama accent "Mines, damn mines. We gotta be more careful." He took the news of two British soldiers being wounded by a mine as a personal loss, like two of his sons had been hurt in an accident.

Smiths' simple, almost stark, office was different from the rest of the top brass offices I've seen. Perhaps, more like the man: unadorned, plain, no BS. There was no spiffed up Marines, ceremoniously standing at Parade Rest at his door, yet everything was U.S. Navy-like shipshape and on the beam.

I like Smith. He's my kind of warrior: salty, energetic, creative, no-nonsense, the kind of boss that gets his own coffee. He's a natural leader with lots of street-smarts and commonsense.

Under his disarming country boy act there's a damn sharp brain capable of decisive leadership. He seems a cross between Generals U.S. Grant and George Marshall - high intelligence, iron willed and extraordinarily talented.

He won't allow mission creep or sway with the political breeze. He'll tell his chiefs the truth and stand in the door putting principle, his career and his troops' safely over politics.

He went out of his way to give his subordinates credit. "I surround myself with smart people and it makes my job easy," he says.

There was no sign of a big ego ticking away. He's not a Schwarzkopf or a Powell who write thick books, but never mention the little guys who made it all work. To listen to these perfumed princes, they did it all by themselves.

I'm not sure that his biggest problems here won't be with the politically correct Washington crowd and the top ranking perfumed princes.

His NATO boss, General George Joulwon just put out General Order No. 1 which says U.S. IFOR warriors are prohibited from consuming "alcoholic beverage."

This doesn't make sense! Our warriors can risk their lives in the Balkan minefields, but are not responsible enough to have a couple of beers!

I imagine Smith and sweet smelling, micromanaging Joulwon, will have a few heated words about this stupid order.

I am not sure the mission here can be accomplished within the one year time limit, but am convinced if any skipper can guide the IFOR ship through the dangerous waters that lay ahead, it's Adm. Smith.

As one of his Annapolis classmates says, "Snuffy" is the right guy for the job." Amen!