Thursday, October 27, 2016

So there I was, in Albania. Part 1

So there I was, Albania, 1999.  Kosovo "air war".

The Army, in its infinite wisdom, decided to go to war against Serbia.  Well, Bill Clinton and Madeline Albright did, anyways.  Anyway, we went to war, not with thew troops who were training for the mission, but with the troops who just happened to show up at the unit just then.  Nope, couldn't interrupt training for the actual mission.

So the two guys who were still inprocessing and I, who had completed inprocessing a week before, were ordered to war.  We got the notice on Monday morning, and left Tuesday afternoon.  The other guys had to finish inprocessing, so I got to find all the left over, broken junk gear that nobody else wanted, so we could go to war with it.  Did I mention that was was my first tactical assignment, and I knew slightly less than nothing about what I was doing?

The HMMWV was held together with 100mph tape and 550 cord.  I mean that.  I leaked oil more slowly than we could pour it in, so that was OK.  Good enough for going to war, anyways.  Where was all the good gear?  At Hohenfells, being used to prepare the existing teams in case we needed to go to war with Serbia.  Couldn't be spared, couldn't cancel or shorten training.  Wouldn't be right.  No, I'm not kidding.

Anyways, we eventually get all the gear (leaky tent, check.  Broken field desk, check.  Field phone built for the Korean conflict, check.)  We get our weapons - an M9 Beretta 9mm pistol each, six 15-round magazines each, and 30 rounds of ammunition each.  Yes, you read that right.  6 mags, only 30 rounds.  No maps - so I went to the post library, and copied out the pages on Albania and Yugoslavia from the encyclopedia.  No, I'm not kidding.  When we got there, I had the only map of the country, other than the General's personal map.  No, I'm not kidding.

Oh, did I mention that I just happened to have arrived at my unit in Germany straight from 2 years at DLI, Monterey, CA?  I learned Russian and Serbo-Croatian, as it happened.  That's not why I was sent - I was an available warm body.  So, the US Army went to war with Serbia, and I just happened to be the only Serbian speaker in the entire task force.  (Another guy from our unit who spoke Serbian showed up a little later, but he got assigned to different duties, and our paths didn't cross much.)  That's what I call good planning.

Much silliness happened.  I'm proud to say that I survived the mud with only minor foot ailments that left only one permanent mark on me.  I got the HMMWV out of the mud one night!  I helped rescue some woman from drowning in the mud.  You think you've seen mud?  The airfield there was built on a level field, at the confluence of two rivers.  Said field had been used as a sheep pasture for at least 5,000 years.  It was Spring - you know, when the snow in the mountains melts, and the rivers flood.  Into the big, empty field.  Around the airfield.  So we were thigh deep in liquid sheep shit.  For weeks.  Everything, and I mean everything, sank into the mire.  We made paths of early Hesco-like barrier material.  They sank.  We piled more on.  They sank.  We ran out of barriers, so started piling on sandbags.  They sank, but established a path that was only thigh deep, so we set out markers and called it good enough.   The porta-johns, delivered at the beginning, couldn't be emptied because the honey trucks sank in the mud.  You can't dig latrines in a swamp.  Things were ugly.  The showers showed up after two months.  They were only a half mile away from us - a pleasant stroll through the muck.  And, of course, they sank in the mud, which made showering a bit more interesting, and less cleansing, than you might imagine.