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U.S. Soldiers, Pilots Wary About Bosnia, But Are Ready To Go

Like many U.S. soldiers headed for Bosnia, chopper pilots at the Hanau air base worry about treacherous winter weather, the millions of land mines strewn by the warring sides and how peaceful the peace will really be.

Nevertheless, Chief Warrant Officer Timothy Harper is excited about the mission.

“We’re ready to go,” said the 35-year-old Persian Gulf War veteran from Laramie, Wyo.

“We know what our mission is.”

Harper’s battalion - nicknamed the “Head Hunters” - will be at the front lines of the NATO mission in the Balkans, patrolling the 2.5-mile zone separating the warring factions once they sign the Dayton peace agreement.

Maj. Jim Ludowese, a 38-year-old Apache pilot from Rochester, Minn., says he thinks the dangers have been exaggerated.

“I don’t think it will be such a problem,” he said as heavy-metal rock music from a TV echoed through the brightly lit maintenance hangar Friday. “There’s nothing in that country that these Apaches can’t destroy.”

Apaches carry 2.75-inch rockets, Hellfire anti-tank missiles and 30-mm cannons.

The 24 Apaches from Hanau will be among the first units to go into Bosnia from the 1st Armored Division in Germany, the main source of the 20,000 U.S. peace policing troops. Americans will make up about one-third of the NATO force.

For the helicopter crews, the biggest danger will be snow and poor visibility that can make flying impossible, said Alan D. Swain, a battalion commander at Hanau, 15 miles east of Frankfurt.

But “we’d be naive not to believe that someone will test our resolve” with gunfire.

At Kirch-Goens, a mechanized infantry base 40 miles northeast of Frankfurt, there was less swagger.

As crews ready Bradley Fighting Vehicles on a chilly hilltop, Sgt. Frederick Parody said his main worry is being maimed or killed by a land mine or in “a guerrilla warfare-style” attack by forces opposed to the Dayton deal.

Parody, a Bradley gunner in the division’s 5th Cavalry unit, also was not looking forward to “having to go in there and separate two hostile sides.”

Sgt. Kenneth Wood, a battalion spokesman at Kirch-Goens, summarized the mood in a sentence: “No one wants to go in and shoot someone, but they’re ready to go.”

xxxx NATO DEPLOYMENT SCHEDULE IN BOSNIA A rough schedule for NATO troops in Bosnia, according to British, U.S. and NATO military planners on Sunday. Today: 56 members of Britain’s 7th Signal Regiment fly from the Royal Air Force base at Brueggen, Germany, to Split, Croatia. The communications specialists, staff officers and logistics experts will head to Sarajevo and elsewhere to set up communications for the NATO force. Tuesday: A convoy of 15 to 20 NATO trucks begins the four- to five-day drive from Naples, Italy, to Zagreb, Croatia, to deliver equipment for NATO headquarters in Zagreb. Wednesday: About 45 NATO personnel fly from Naples to Zagreb. Up to 700 U.S. logistics, communications and security specialists may begin setting up a NATO headquarters in Sarajevo. Their exact arrival date is not clear. Dec. 14: After the Bosnia peace agreement is signed in Paris, light infantry troops will begin going to Tuzla, in eastern Bosnia, where the 20,000 U.S. forces are expected to be headquartered. They could start landing in Bosnia on Dec. 18. Late December: The heavier forces, bringing tanks and howitzers, will come through Kaposvar, Hungary, and travel by road through Croatia. It was expected to take about 60 days to get them all in. February: All 60,000 NATO troops from 26 countries are to be in Bosnia. Associated Press