From the Soldier side: Back in Jan 2003 a bunch of us from the National Guard unit I was in were called up. We were told that we were being attached to another unit for Pre-mobilization Training for possible deployment to Iraq. So off we went for a few weeks of fun and paper work.
Then we went home and waited. The wait was not long when our own unit told us “you’re not going with that other unit because our unit has now been tasked with going to Bosnia.”
Oh cool! So I would get out of the job of going to Iraq. Great…I thought that meant that whatever happened in Iraq would all be over with and I’d never have to go. (I did go the next year, but this is not about that.)
This posting is about the Bosnia Deployment. The strangest thing I can say about going to Bosnia is I actually loved it. The job I got to do there was the absolute best damn job I ever got to work on in my entire life!!! I loved the folks there, I loved the country (despite the half a million land mines still scattered about) and I loved what I got to do. Someday I’ll actually be able to write about what I did there... (My main goal there was to not be an Ugly American).
One of the things I didn’t like about the Bosnia Deployment was the useless, poorly planned, off the wall, stupid ass, made up training we had to do before we went there. We were on active duty orders for a total of 9 months, but we actually were called in for over 60 days of training before we were even on orders. Most of the time, we’d get a call on a Wednesday or Thursday telling us to show up on Saturday. Many of these extra weekends were training conducted by other soldiers who’d never actually been to Bosnia or, apparently, even studied the country. The stuff that they were training us, was stuff these instructors made up. Crap.
This was really odd, since the US Army had been deployed in Bosnia for several years by that point in history, there was no logical reason that they couldn’t actually find soldiers who’d been there to come and train us. I suspect that these soldiers were trying to do the best that they could on short notice.
Even later, when we were on active duty orders and going through even more pre-mob training with the Minnesota 34th Division- The Red Bulls, we were subjected to even more really poor training.
Some of this training, that later proved to be wrong, was on the culture of Bosnia. You see, until just a few years before, there was no country of Bosnia. It was all part of the former country known as Yugoslavia. So, trying to train on the culture of Bosnia was difficult…made even more difficult by people who had poor information and seemed to just make shit up.
Once I was in Bosnia, I quickly learned that almost all the training we had been given was crap. Total crap. Even worse than crap. For, if I had not gone through this useless training, I would have no embarrassed myself when talking to some of the folks in Bosnia.
There were two basic religions in Bosnia. Orthodox Christians and Muslims. I could never tell the difference by just looking at them. One clue I did figure out was whether or not a village had a church or a mosque. (in police work we called that a clue.) If you knew me, you’d know I’d never “normally” say something to piss off somebody I didn’t even know. But a few times our retarded training did just that. After a while, I got smarter and started to ask my “terps” culture questions before I pissed somebody off.
One day I was walking in one of the mostly Muslim villages. The folks there really loved the Americans because our intervention into the war there prevented them from all getting slaughtered. They loved President Clinton and when we visited they always told us. (I never got around to explaining that if Clinton had not been such a pussy, we might have gotten there sooner and prevent more bloodshed.) This day I was in this village, I saw a man, Mohammad, walking with his wife a few meters in front of him. I was confused.
I stopped Mohammad and said: “I thought your customs required your wife to walk a few paces behind you.”
He looked at me with a toothless smile and said: “Yes, when they wrote the Koran, they didn’t have land mines all over the damn place.”
More culture training to come.
(Note: the dude who did our culture training for Iraq the next year, had never actually been to Iraq, but had lived in a country near Iraq 25 years before. This would be like me giving a culture class about Germany to a bunch of folks from China-- Crap.)