Guard put to the test in training for Bosnia

Thursday, June 22nd 2000, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

CAMP GRUBER, Okla. (AP) -- The air hung hot and sticky Thursday morning, and the soldiers were already sweating when suddenly, they
came under attack.

An angry mob surrounded their humvees.

They shouted and raised their fists.

Gunners with nervous eyes barked orders to get back.

But still they came.

And then, a pesky television crew jumped in the middle of it.

Started filming.

Started shouting questions.

The gunners tried to ignore them.

Tried to calm the mob.

For Oklahoma National Guard members training for a mission in Bosnia, learning to keep the peace Thursday meant learning to keep their cool.

"It's different," said Spec. Jacob Dean, one of the gunners put to the test in Thursday's swelter. "We need to get there and establish rapport so they trust us. They haven't been able to trust anyone with weapons."

The deployment of 170 Oklahoma soldiers to Bosnia as part of Task Force Eagle is the first time since the Korean War that members of the 45th Infantry Brigade have been mobilized by federal order.

Tulsa-based Company A of the 1st Battalion 279th Infantry and Company C of the 1st Battalion 179th Infantry, based in Oklahoma
City, are spending two weeks undergoing special training at Camp Gruber in eastern Oklahoma. More training awaits at Fort Stewart, Ga., and Fort Polk, La., before deployment to Bosnia in September.

They will join other members under the Army's 3rd Infantry Division in a mission to maintain peace in a region long ruled by

What these Oklahoma soldiers leave behind are civilian jobs as teachers, engineers, auto mechanics and welders.

And unlike any other mission, soldiers see their civilian skills paying off.

They will be dealing with civilians on their battlefield.

They're learning not to return sniper fire. Their goal is to diffuse tempers before they lead to violence.

"I deal with people," said Sgt. Michael Turley, a manager and underwriter for a Tulsa finance company. "With some of my customers, you get people with varying degrees of emotional attitudes."

The goal is the same, he said, "staying calm and not getting stressed out."

Lt. Christopher Knight, executive officer of Company A, visited Bosnia four weeks ago. He already has seen how his skills as a
maintenance repair supervisor at MCI WorldCom will come in handy.

He has established an Internet site where soldiers' families will be able to keep in touch with them overseas.

Unlike regular Army soldiers who carry titles of rifleman and tank driver, the soldiers under him also bring civilian titles of welder, prison guard, school teacher. In a world where roads are still being rebuilt, he figures that could pay off.

"You have people who are subject material experts," Knight said.

The training at Camp Gruber tested people skills, more than anything Thursday -- a tricky feat when you're carrying an M-16.

At a recreated Bosnian base camp, checkpoint soldiers were met by a man who stumbled forward clutching an ugly plastic wound to
his arm. The guards ordered him to stop, then called for an interpreter and help.

At another site, a cluster of buildings and overturned cars simulated the town of Brcko. Soldiers playing the part of a mob ferociously worked to get at two foreign doctors who failed to heal a sick infant.

Four military vehicles roared to the rescue, angering the mob further. Finally, after negotiations with the town's "mayor" and
"police chief," the soldiers were able to escort the doctors to safety.

Turley said that in some ways, the peacekeeping mission brings more complications than one involving combat. It carries the dangers of buried mines and possible sniper attacks.

"But there really isn't an enemy," he said, "unless somebody starts posing a threat.