Chinooks Save The Day in Croatia


          December 29, 1995



Sava River Map.
   NEAR ZUPANJA, Croatia -- Three weeks into their peace mission. NATO's American contingent's biggest enemy has turned out to be inclement weather.

             U.S. Army engineers had hoped to meet a Saturday noon deadline and complete a vital bridge over the swollen Sava river which will ferry 20,000 U.S. peacekeeping troops into Bosnia. But weather conditions forced engineers to push back the deadline to Sunday.

             Just 20 days before the entire 60,000-strong NATO force is to be in place, only 2,400 of the 20,000 U.S. troops in the mission have reached Bosnia. The troops, who are trying to transport an armored division from Germany, have been beset by difficulties weather-wise, and the flooding of the Sava river capped an already-arduous journey.

             The crossing point is at Zupanja on the Bosnian-Croatian border. Zupanja's highway bridge was blown up in September 1991.

             Bridge building activity across the Sava river resumed Friday after bad weather and was progressing at break-neck speed. General Pat O'Neal with the 1st Armoured Division said that the plan was to use helicopters to assemble all of the pieces of the pontoon bridge in the Sava river Friday. In the air, twin-rotor Chinook helicopters ferried pontoons out of the staging area and onto the river.

             On land, bulldozers moved fresh rock atop a small mountain of mud to create an on-ramp while Army engineers began building a bridge across the Sava.

             The commander of the U.S. 1st Armored Division, Major General William Nash, said it was time to get on with the mission. "We're going to stay here till the job gets done. And it will continue, if necessary through the night. Tomorrow morning, we'll put all of the pieces together and drive across," Nash said.

             Throughout the afternoon Friday in a driving snowstorm, troops deployed the pontoons upstream. Others working aboard bridge erection boats or floating bridge parts, ratcheted up the loose connections and a bridge began to take shape.

             Everywhere there was a renewed sense of mission and spirit of teamwork. "It shows the versatility of the U.S. Army. Everyone is uplifted again," Sgt. Robert Bryant said.

             With six tons of bridge floating underneath, the Chinooks made short work of a mission that only a day before seemed hopelessly mired in the mud. Everyone who watched the operation unfold, came away impressed. "There are a lot of people here who are going to make this happen. I expect to see a bridge here and operating within the next 48 hours," British NATO Colonel Tony Barton said Friday.

             Early Saturday the bridge sections were to be joined together and by mid day, the first armor units, including 60 M-1 tanks and Bradley fighting vehicles were to begin rolling across.



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