Emotional ties boost morale of U.S. soldiers in Bosnia Senior officers formerly discouraged troops from becoming too involved

January 04, 1998|By NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE

OLOVO, Bosnia-Herzegovina -- Staff Sgt. Paul Correale noticed the elderly woman in black with the toddler when the two turned to watch his patrol from 50 feet or so away. The child waved a tiny, pink-mittened hand in greeting.

The sergeant, 34, is a specialist in armed reconnaissance who describes what his training entailed this way: "They tell us to go out and get information on the enemy so the main force can kill them."

And that is what he is expected to do in Bosnia if the NATO-led peacekeeping mission deteriorates into combat.

But, with that pink mitten waving back and forth, his patrol stopped while the sergeant, laughing, ran over to grasp the child's hand.

"I'm doing what I'm doing for the kids here," he said afterward. "I think the Bosnians are the hardest-working, most decent people I've ever seen."

The U.S. Army has worried about this sort of thing. Senior U.S. officers in Bosnia spent much of the past two years telling their subordinates not to let soldiers get emotionally involved in what they were doing here.

There was too high a risk that Western efforts would fail, the officers said; and if the soldiers cared too much about the country, their morale might collapse along with the peace.

But it seems too late for such concerns. To a considerable extent, U.S. forces have gone from dispassionate observers in a confusing land to soldiers who feel their job is to help people they know and like.

Senior officers now say it may be better for the Army if the soldiers feel an emotional association with Bosnians.

Soldiers get constant reinforcement from Bosnians who tell them it is good that the Americans are here.

Psychological screenings of soldiers leaving the danger, discomfort and loneliness of long tours in Bosnia find that the troops feel better about themselves and their jobs than the average American does, according to Army psychologists.

An immediate benefit for the Army is that soldiers who have been assigned to Bosnia are more likely to re-enlist than others, officers say. Last year the re-enlistment rates for some Army units in Europe, from which most the soldiers in Bosnia have come, were more than 50 percent higher than their goals, the Army says.

In this town there was another statistic to note: the number of times per minute Bosnians smiled and greeted the American patrol.

As they walked the frozen streets at the bottom of a valley where PTC the mountains, the pine trees and the sky were uniformly white with snow and haze, most of the U.S. soldiers spoke optimistically of their work.

They did not dwell on the factories destroyed by shelling or the large number of refugees barred from returning to their homes because the country remains splintered along ethnic lines.

Instead, the men in this patrol noted the rebuilt homes and hospital.

Their view of success comes in part from their limited responsibilities expressed by the Army.

Their orders do not include having them hunt down indicted war crimes suspects who still powerfully influence politics, although NATO troops are authorized to arrest suspects if security conditions allow.

Neither are they supposed to ensure that the victims of so-called ethnic cleansing return to their homes.

While a fractured Bosnia, brim-ful with the unemployed, the homeless and the angry and governed by politicians who will not work together, might blow apart, the soldiers are told their work is going well.

Many of the 8,500 U.S. soldiers in Bosnia believe that since their deployment after the December 1995 Dayton accords, they have enforced a peace that is allowing civilian and international agencies to begin rebuilding a country many of them have come to like.

Walking next to the rebuilt Olovo hospital, fresh plaster on the outside and warm clinics filled with children and their mothers inside, Capt. Dan McIntosh, who commands an armored cavalry company, said:

"Think of what that means to a community to lose its only hospital. And then, we help open it up. That is something. Our soldiers set the conditions for that."

Pub Date: 1/04/98

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