Monday, February 7, 2011

Sarajevo, Bosnia 99

In July 1999 I was a member of the 1st Battalion 10th Special Forces Group stationed in Boeblingen Germany just outside Stuttgart. During the last part of this month NATO decided to hold a Stability Pact Summit with many many world leaders in attendance including then United States President Bill Clinton. Security as can be imagined was a massive undertaking and the all call went out to our unit to conduct counter sniper activities. Every single sniper qualified individual in our unit something like 90 of us was deployed to Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina for the summit. Each counter sniper team would have a shooter, a spotter and a commo man to operate the satellite communications. This deployment was an odd one as we generally knew when we would be back home and we weren't deploying whole Special Forces teams but only those individuals that had qualified as snipers through the Special Operations Target Interdiction Course. I would be going with only two other members of my ODA and a whole bunch of other battalion members.

On the day of deployment I drew my M24 (Remington 700) Sniper Weapons System, grabbed my gear and loaded a C130 for the relatively short flight of a couple hours to Bosnia. We landed at the Sarajevo International Airport and as we loaded our gear onto military vehicles I noticed all the bullet holes and shrapnel scars on the buildings on and surrounding the airport. During the war this area had been on the receiving end of a lot of artillery fire as well as some heavy fighting.

After we loaded all our gear we were trucked to the NATO/SFOR main base. They dropped us off at the base movie theater which would be our home for the next few days. They had set up hundreds of cots inside the theater and we all claimed one and spread out our gear. The rest of the day involved a lot of laying around and the obligatory tour of the local base exchange. Someone had neglected to tell the theater they were closed for the duration so that night I got to watch a movie while laying on my cot. The movie playing was The Mummy with Brenden Frasier. I have seen that movie a hundred times since then since it is one of my daughter's favorites, however my first time seeing it I was laying on a army cot eating popcorn in Sarajevo.

The next morning we packed our mission essential equipment and loaded into vehicles to be dropped off at our counter sniper positions. We would be deploying teams all along the motorcade route to look for any would be snipers or other problems. We were considered the outer ring of security, the inner security ring around the airport and at the summit site would be manned by the Secret Service and other national assets. Myself and my team were dropped off on one of the main streets downtown and told to find a hide site on the roof of one of the buildings facing north. We had been given our surveillance sector and our radio call signs back at the theater. We entered a likely building and climbed the stairs to the roof. The building was deserted and about 7 stories tall. It had a nice flat roof with a small ledge around the edges. From its roof we had a clear field of fire throughout our whole section of street to the east and west.

We started to improve our position as we would be there for the next two days. we had been put in place the day prior to the summit and would stay until its completion. I placed some sand bags on the concrete roof that I had been carrying to act as a platform and reduce the recoil of my weapon. While our commo guy set up the radio and made a situation report (SITREP) myself and my spotter made a range card of our sector. We used a laser range finder and plotted out all the major terrain features,buildings and likely hide sites and got accurate ranges to them so I could dial it in to my M24 if needed. One of the buildings we took a range to was the Sarajevo newspaper building which had been heavily damaged and from what I was told was left as a memorial of the war. It was a large multi story building and had been so utterly destroyed you could see right through it.

So for the next 24-36 hours we scanned the opposing rooftops and streets for any suspicious activity. Every 4 hours a SITREP was called in and we would switch of being "on" the gun every few hours. It had initially started out blazing hot and sunny but as the sun moved across the sky the clouds built up and it started to rain. We constructed some poncho "hooches" for shelter by bungee cording them between the antennas that sprouted from our roof. Occasionally boredom would over take us and we would spot a pretty girl and follow her progress down the street through our binoculars, we were in the heart of Sarajevo downtown and the streets were buzzing with activity. As the day wore into night we switched to night vision goggles and thermal imaging to continue our surveillance.

The next morning the sun came up and burned off the early morning mist that hung low in the valley in which Sarajevo sits. It was good to see old BOB (Big Old Ball) again as the night had been somewhat uncomfortable and chilly on the roof top.I whipped out my camp stove and brewed up some coffee and ramen noodles while I took in the scenery. I wondered what it would have been like to be trapped in this city during the recent war, as sniper fire and artillery shell rained down from the surrounding mountains. I also wondered how a city that had hosted an Olympics could have turned out to be in such a mess. As the morning wore on we got word that the motorcade would be heading our way shortly. We had been getting updated over the radio on the arrival of all the Heads if State at the airport.

We went on a higher state of alertness as the motorcade moved our way along its route, as the first sedan passed our vantage point we continually scanned our sector for movement. Black sedan after black sedan passed us. We tried to make out the little flags flying from the hoods but they were too small to see from our vantage point. Finally we got word the POTUS would be passing by shortly, a large black van with a multitude of antennas passed below us and then the sedan carrying President Clinton went by followed by another van. It was unconfirmed but it seems like our communications went out for a short time after the first van went by, like they had been jamming.

Once the President went by more dignitaries passed us and we continued to keep a sharp lookout. This was anti-climactic however as the motorcade would be taking another route to egress the conference and our job was essentially done. Eventually we got the word to pack up and move to street level for exfiltration.We waited until we saw the vehicle pull up in the alley behind our building and we quickly moved down the interior stairway and piled into the back. The truck took us back to the NATO base where we spent the rest of the evening swapping war stories with our buddies about what they had seen. One of the best I heard was that a French soldier at the airport had been tackled by the Secret Service because he thought it would be a good idea to try and get a peek at Bill Clinton through his sniper scope!!! True or not that was a good rumor.

The next morning we packed our belongings and boarded a plane for home. On arrival we turned in our weapons and I headed for my apartment and my family. I was tired but satisfied I had once again made the world safe for democracy or something.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for the link to my site -- enjoyed reading some of your content.


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