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A Bosnian Serb soldier pauses to gawk at 1st Cavalry troopers at Apache 2, south of Orasje. Compliance with Dayton Agreement in the Posavina area has been smooth.

With more firepower than any Bosnian faction could have ever dreamed of, the Abrams M1As and Bradleys of the 1st Armored Division have sent a clear message: 'Chill out, you want no part of this. You have nothing that can touch it.'

"Just like home" was how one 1st Cavalry Trooper from East Chicago described the fire barrels the troops use to keep warm.

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Cold and Lonely,
1st Cavalry Troopers
Cope with Boredom

13 January 1996
Route Arizona, Apache 1

Since the 38th Army Engineers
bridged the Sava River from Croatia into Northern Bosnia and the notorious Posavina corridor, the U.S. Army has been on the move in a major way. Columns of every conceivable type of hardware and troops have been rolling down the main road from the bridgehead to Tuzla. Balkan combatants from all sides have gotten a clear picture of what is in store for them if they decide to lock horns with boys from the land of the O.K. Corral.

In Serb-held areas of Bosnia, where the main maneuver units of the 1st Armored Division, "Old Ironsides," are deployed, Serb militiamen stood in awe as columns of Bradleys and Abrams main battle tanks stretched to the horizon. After a couple of days, most of them simply faded back to the farms and villages where they came from. There is more firepower on this one road than they have seen in their wildest dreams.

At their zenith, the combatants of Bosnia were really nothing more than light infantry backed up by some tanks and artillery. The endless parade of fire-breathing monsters now on their turf has sent a clear and present signal: there's a new sheriff in town and the word is, "Chill out."

In Serb areas especially, the checkpoints that no more than a few months ago would have meant major hassles for any foreign journalist who happened along, and death for any Bosnian unfortunate enough to stray into them, have disappeared.

1st Cavalry Troopers at Apache 2, the NATO checkpoint along the Croat-Serb lines near Orasje, were surprised the other morning when dawn revealed a full company of Serb regulars filing past with all their crew-served weapons in tow, leaving the line. Around the fire barrel they have going to keep warm, the troopers told me, "These guys just look tired. They really looked like they had had enough and we were there so they could go home." And so it seemed.

Word was that the Serbs were pulling out and taking their mines with them. "A bunch of them showed up the other morning and asked us to give them an escort down towards the Croat line to pick up their mines. They told us that the Croats would shoot at them if they went alone so we took 'em down. They had mines in as close as 100 meters from the Cro line!" a trooper from East Chicago told me. No one messed with them. They had two Bradleys to back them up.

"It's funny," another guy chirped in, "the Croats have been blowing theirs up in place but these Serb guys have been recovering theirs. Why waste 'em I guess, might have to use 'em again." Indeed.

I was an Army engineer, and the whole mine scenario was close to home and it blew my mind. On one hand, a group of supremely ballsy Serb 12Bs was crawling out to within a hundred yards of an active and heavily armed trenchline, obviously at night, to lay mines and record their location! On the other hand, I was told, the Croats were deliberately cracking the pressure plates on their mines to make them more sensitive! No thank you! No wonder the Croats were blowing their mines in place. The sentiments of the 1st Cavalry Troopers, "All the noise makes us pretty nervous," seemed to be the consensus.

For all the inherent dangers of the Posavina Corridor, the real enemy is boredom and cold. At each side of the corridor sits Apache 1 and Apache 2. Each consists of a troop from one of the various squadrons of the 1st Cavalry Regiment. Each consists of 4 Bradleys and a tent.

Apache 1 sits smack dab in the middle of the Muslim line to the south, and the Serb line to the north, surrounded by minefields. "It gets pretty boring here," said Spec. Kyle Shackett from Athol, Massachusetts, "We basically stand around and try to stay warm. The heaters on our Bradleys keep burning out. Mine's been broke since before Christmas and we can't get spare elements." Right about then the number three vehicle blew, sending up a thick white plume of diesel smoke. Kyle just shook his head and laughed. "We pretty much direct the traffic and provide a presence, you know a show of force. The Bosnians have been okay, I mean they haven't messed with us and those that come by here just drive on through."

About that time, a small group of Bosnian Muslim Military Police came out of the line 150 meters away and looked us over for 10 minutes or so, until the awful weather made them pack it in. It was a steady, freezing drizzle. "There used to be a lot more traffic, especially press, but they've thinned out. We like journalists, they always stop and give us stuff."

This is true, Mark Milstein, Senior Foreign correspondent for Soldier of Fortune magazine is a self-appointed paper boy for the First Cav, getting bundles of Stars and Stripes from the Info Office at Tuzla AFB and handing them out all along route Arizona. "This Bosnian fixer guy from CNN rode up the other day and gave us a bunch of oranges. We thought that was pretty cool." What a switch that is, I thought. Used to be brandy and cigarettes for the militia, now it's apples and oranges for the Army. "Only thing pisses me off, is that I haven't gotten any bubble gum yet." Kyle said jokingly.

That's a new gimmick in Northern Bosnia, Bikini Babes Bubble Gum. They give it to you as change at the mini-markets and it has a little girlie sticker in it. Someone must have driven in a semi trailer of the stuff. There is no place in Tuzla where you don't see them stuck to walls, bus stops, police kiosks, trucks, everywhere. "You mean you ain't got no Bikini Babes yet?" I asked. "Hell, I'll fix you up bro."

So I ran back to my car, through the slush, and grabbed a Snickers bar and the prized gum. "Here you go dude, welcome to Bosnia." There we were, two regular Joes, standing in the rain, in a minefield, in the middle of nowhere, bored senseless, and savoring one of those little joys in life. Let's hope it stays that way.