Op CAVALIER - 1991-92
Major Andrew Butters - The RCR; 1977 - 2007
1. What Operation did you serve on?
Op Cavalier, ROTO 0 (UNPROFOR, B-H Command), CANBAT 2.
CANBAT 2 consisted of Bravo Coy (1RCR), BHQ, Golf, Hotel, Kilo and Lima Coys, A Squadron (12 RBC) and 2 Field Troop (5 RGC). A Dutch Signals Section was also attached to us. The majority of our vehicles (M113 etc) came from 3 RCR / 4 CMBG although the 24 Cougars came out of 12 RBC in Valcartier.
2. Where did the operation take place?
Croatia (Lipik, Sector West) and Bosnia-Herzegovina (Visoko). We were supposed to deploy to Banja Luka but the Bosnian Serbs would not agree to it as they were still conducting ethnic cleansing in Northwest Bosnia and were concerned that a large, well equipped UN Battle Group in their midst would put an end to their loathsome activities. At any rate, we spent about two and a half months in the 3 PPCLI sector in Croatia trying to keep busy before deploying to Visoko in early January; we even ran a number of QL 4 courses while there. The only exceptions to this were the deployment of Hotel Company and Recce Platoon to northern Macedonia (Tetovo, Kumanovo and Skopje) on the UN's first ever preventative deployment, which included road moves through Serbia and Kosovo; a platoon tasking to Kostanica to assist in a refugee crisis operation; and the deployment of the BG Advance Party to Banja Luka for three weeks in December. On 25 December, the UN abandoned the mission to Northern Bosnia and we withdrew from Banja Luka shortly after - Maj Bernd Horn had assumed command of the Advance Party by that time.
On deployment to Bosnia, we conducted tasks in and around Sarajevo; in the Milankovici Triangle, on the Tarcin-Kresovo Road; and in Gorazde and Zepa, which were Armed Escort tasks for UNHCR Humanitarian Convoys into the Muslim enclaves of Eastern Bosnia. However, 2 RCR's major task in Bosnia was the securing of Srebrenica as a UN Safe Haven by Golf Company Group beginning in April. This is where we sustained the majority of our casualties.
3. What unit (Bn/Coy/Pl) of the Regiment were you with?
2nd Battalion, BHQ, Operations Section.
4. What rank and position did you hold?
Major, Ops O and OC BHQ. My 2IC was Capt Omer Lavoie and my CSM was MWO Kip Hannigan. Capt Marcel McNichol (5 RALC) was the Senior Duty Officer, Capts Dave Lambert and Ron MacEachern (4 RCHA) the senior Liaison Officers and WO Henry Anobis the Ops WO. Quality people all around and great professionals
5. What were the dates of your deployment?
I deployed early with the CO, LCol Tom Geburt. WO Anobis was with us and possibly Dave Lambert. Total time in-theatre was mid-Oct 1991 to mid-May 199. The main body of the Battle Group arrived over the first two weeks of November, staging through Zagreb and Daruvar, Croatia.
6. How long did the unit spend conducting pre-deployment training? How much of this time was spent on exercises at your local base, or away from home?
It seemed we spent very little time preparing for the mission. The Warning Order was received in mid-August and we conducted the tactical recce in early September. That left about a month and a half to get ready, including embarkation leave. Half way through the mounting phase, we stopped our preparations and provided a full mechanized company, plus attachments, for the Combat Team Commander's Course. Our validation exercise consisted of a three day round-robin exercise in CFB Gagetown at sub-unit level where different scenarios were presented to the companies (e.g.: negotiating a Convoy through a warring faction check point). I simply cannot imagine that happening today. That said, it was a very short notice deployment and 2 RCR was the most operationally ready battalion in the Canadian Army, having done Op SALON, Op SNOWGOOSE and RV 91 immediately prior.
7. In general, what subjects were covered during pre-deployment training? Did you receive briefings or training on the culture of the country you would be visiting?
I don't recall what we actually did in terms of pre-deployment training. A lot of the time was devoted to staff planning and attending meetings at our parent Brigade, 5 GBMC, in Valcartier. The ROE's came to us quite late and we didn't train on them the way we do for deployments now. We had a huge terrain model made of Bosnia and took it with us but for some reason it was never used in theatre.... It must have measured 8' x 16' in four sections. I guess it was too big to be of any practical value.
8. How did you deploy to the theatre of operations and how long were you in transit from Canada to the operational area?
We flew commercial from Halifax to Frankfurt and then on to Zagreb. After visiting UNPROFOR HQ and meeting the DFC (MGen Gaudrault), we flew to Belgrade on a UN flight and met with the COS of B-H Command (Brigadier Cordy Simpson) and his Staff who were busily preparing for their deployment to Sarajevo. We spent about a week there and then flew back to Zagreb with the Commander of B-H Command, MGen Phillipe Morillon, who said nothing to the CO throughout the flight, much to our dismay.
9. What was your weekly work schedule like during the operation?
Morning prayers with the CO and Lt Craig Aitchison leading off with the daily Int briefing / update; Staff Planning visits to UNPROFOR HQ in Zagreb and B-H Command in Kiseljak and Sarajevo; Recces of potential deployment areas early on in the tour; Producing staff estimates and written reports for various HQ's; Writing Orders for Company level operations; Meetings with UNHCR and NGO's. Late night SITREPS on Srebrenica to COS CCUNPROFOR. All very mundane stuff, when I look back at it.
10. What were the usual types of tasks you performed on a daily or weekly basis on the operation?
Same as question 9.
11. What was the weather like during your tour?
Heavy rain but mild on arrival in Croatia. Then it turned quite cold in December and January. When we deployed to Bosnia, it was supposedly one of the mildest winters on record. I think we had snow on two or three occasions but it always melted quickly. Even so, spring was very welcome and the early summer was very warm and humid.
12. What were your living conditions in theatre (type of quarters, personal space allocation, numbers of personnel living together)?
Living conditions were extremely austere compared to subsequent deployments like Kosovo (Op Kinetic). In Croatia, we lived under modular tentage and the camp was infested with rats. You could hear them rustling about and rooting through your rucksack at night - that always gave me the willies so I'd just pull the sleeping bag up over my head and hope they'd leave me alone while sleeping very lightly every night. Our trade pioneers built expedient showers out of immersion heaters and bilge pumps from the APCs. When the honey sucker broke down, it was a major concern in terms of hygiene and morale.
Our Camp in Bosnia was a marginal improvement. BHQ, A Squadron, Golf, Hotel and Lima Companies occupied an industrial complex on the northern outskirts of Visoko. It was always cold, dank and dusty and the ablutions stank of urea. Hot water for washing and showering was always in short supply. There was a false ceiling over the Ops Center, which was home to hundreds of pigeons and they drove me crazy with their incessant cooing. Drive-by shootings were not uncommon and occasionally artillery landed close by. Bravo and Kilo Companies occupied an old brick factory in Kiseljak, about ten miles south, which was even more austere.
13. What were the rations like during the operations (type, variety, personal opinion on general quality)?
Our cooks were exceptional. Under austere conditions they managed to put together wonderful meals every day, as they always do.
14. Did the Battalion celebrate holidays and Regimental Days as special occasions? Do you remember any particular events that stand out in your mind?
We celebrated the Grey Cup with a football match between the officers and the WO/Senior NCO's which the officers won. Christmas and the Regimental Birthday kind of blurred together. We celebrated Paardeberg in Visoko with a Mess Dinner, including wines, port and after-dinner liquors. Impossible to do that kind of thing today. Those events were a marvelous break from the day-to-day grind of operations.
Many events stand out: Leading the Advance Party into Banja Luka; the six day recce of central Bosnia with the CO and Col Vukolic; Conducting a VIP Escort Task for the Commander of the Bosnian Forces, General Sefer Halilovic, from Visoko to Kiseljak; Being ambushed on Dove Route with the CO on return from Kiseljak one night; Going through the Serb checkpoints into Sarajevo; The death of MCpl Ternapolski near Kresovo and the wounding of MCpls Paris and Parrell in Srebrenica.
15. What weapons and equipment did your section/platoon employ during this operation? Was any new equipment issued during the operation?
Ceramic or Kevlar plates were added to the APC's and Cougars towards the end of the deployment as were Vietnam-era steel-plate turrets on the crew commander's cupola of the M113. We were issued Gortex clothing and the Kevlar helmet in CFB Gagetown, all of which was new equipment for the Army.
We had a very robust sniper section, which included a two-time Queen's Medalists (MCpl Fabian Snow). They were deployed for a ten-day period on Dove Route just south of Visoko in a counter-sniper role as our vehicles had frequently been subject to harassing fire from the local Muslim faction. ITV was frequently used as an Observation Platform due to its thermal imaging capability.
16. In a few words, can you describe your general impression of the physical terrain of the country you were in?
Mountainous. And, environmental pollution was significant. Aside from the fact that the war had destroyed most of the infrastructure, Bosnia seemed fifty years behind the West in terms of housing, roads and almost everything else (deploying to Kosovo in 1999 was déjá vu). The exception to this was the Dalmatian Cost, which was quite modern even by Western standards.
17. What entertainments or diversions were available during your off hours?
Email and Internet Café's did not exist and computers were only just being introduced to the military (WO Anobis brought his personal desktop computer with him, pre-loaded with Word Perfect 4.2, Lotus 1-2-3 and DBase III). Many became addicted to Tetris or had their own "Game-Boy" to occupy quiet hours. The INMARSAT was used nightly so that everyone could call home for 10 minutes once or twice a month, according to a strictly controlled roster. Each Company had a TV and VCR with movies provided by CANEX. Ball hockey was popular and ad hoc weight rooms were established but certainly less well equipped than what you see now on a deployment.
18. How much leave could you expect during the tour, what were your options (locations, travel of spouse) for this leave?
72 hours in Budapest (or Graz, if you wanted it) and 14 days VLTA in Canada, Amsterdam and Vienna. A hot shower, a bed with clean sheets, the opportunity to wander about in civilian clothes and a 40-ouncer to chew on were always welcome. Attending a performance of the Bartok String Quartet in Budapest remains a wonderful memory.
19. Were there any small locally available souvenirs that soldiers purchased that still remind you of the tour when you see them?
I don't recall any souvenirs but I still have my "Leatherman", which was provided to each soldier in BHQ Coy from the profits of the BG canteen. An elaborate and slightly illegal initiative of Capts Lavoie and Lambert.
20. How did you transition out of country back to Canada? How long was it between your last 'duty' and your return to family?
The CO was still in Srebrenica and we were in the process of doing a relief-in-place with the Van Doos. I spoke with him every night by HF radio and told him the handover was just about complete so he told me to leave on the next flight (chalk 3). We boarded a bus at about 0200 hrs and left Visoko for Split. This part of the journey took about 13 hours. On arrival in Split we spent a day and a half in a UN transit hotel (four or five to a room), had our kit inspected and then departed for home on a CF Airbus, with a refueling stop in Venice. We arrived in Moncton, were quarantined in an old hangar and then searched for contraband by the RCMP and Customs, complete with sniffer dogs - nothing was found and no one was impressed by that little show of authority. Buses arrived and the married soldiers left first. About an hour later, a bus showed up for the single soldiers, with a couple of stale baloney sandwiches and some warm milk for each of us for the two-hour trip back to CFB Gagetown. The next morning, the whole chalk reassembled for a one hour stress debriefing lecture in the Base Chapel. We spent the next few days turning in our kit and doing administration before being sent on disembarkation leave. How things have changed.
And, for extra credit:
21. What medal did you receive for this operation?
United Nations Protection Force, presented to me on the Battalion Medals parade in Visoko by LCol Eric MacArthur, COS CCUNPROFOR. Of all the medals I have, I am most proud of this one.