Bosnia Special Report

Mines. Mud. Mountains. In the former Yugoslavia, the shooting has stopped—at least temporarily—but there are still many ways for NATO peacekeepers to fall into harm's way.

As they crossed a makeshift bridge over the Sava River into Bosnia, U.S. commanders in Operation Joint Endeavor turned to computer and communications systems for ways to overcome the environment. The guiding principle has been to "move information, not people," according to Brig. Gen. James O'Neill, assistant division commander of the 1st Armored Division, which is the U.S. ground force in Bosnia.

While information technology can't move mountains or dry up mud, Air Force and Army units in Bosnia have proven that sophisticated systems can surmount the formidable problems posed by both.

The Air Force bolted powerful workstations packed with mapping software into all the airlifters flying into the remote, mountain-ringed and often fog- or rain-bound Tuzla, Bosnia, airstrip. Crews first practiced "flying" these missions using software that depicted Tuzla and its approaches in life-like detail.

Communicators from all three military services, NATO and the Defense Information Systems Agency helped bridge mountains—and keep troops off muddy and dangerous roads—by installing the most sophisticated telecommunications network ever deployed to serve troops in Bosnia, Croatia and Hungary, home base of the U.S. National Support Element.

These networks allowed users at forward operating bases in Bosnia to use commercial PCs to tap into databases in St. Louis, permitted commanders and their subordinates to conduct video teleconferences around the clock and supported the most sophisticated telemedicine applications ever deployed.

Pentagon briefing charts make the installation and maintenance of these computer systems and networks appear almost effortless—just an exercise in connecting the dots. In reality, the success of the Bosnian command and control systems owes as much to human ingenuity as it does to technology and perseverance.

Military computer and communications specialists had to contend with bitter cold, mud and bombed-out urban environments requiring not-in-the-manual patches and fixes to stitch together a truly seamless network from a pastiche of foreign, tactical and commercial gear.

The C2 troops on the ground in Bosnia don't mind the hard work because they are beginning to see the first glimmers of normality spring from the fragile peace brought about by the NATO mission. Capt. Dave Alexander, commander of the 58th Signal Company in Sarajevo, Bosnia, said that since December "our soldiers have seen a real transition from desperation to hope. It lets us know the importance of our mission and adds humanity to it."


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