By SRO Kjell Michelsen
My last mission overseas, this time on behalf of both the UN and NATO, came up in the spring of 1995. The Balkan civil war had been going on since the spring of 1992, and a multi-national UN force had since that year, with various success and indeed serious setbacks, been deployed to the area.
Norway decided in the spring of 1995 to send down to Bosnia a mechanized infantry platoon, which was tasked to provide security to the many supplies and aid convoys going into the area of operations. During this time the mission was under a UN mandate, a mandate the UN struggled to uphold. We operated Finish made Patria Pasi (SISU) armed personnel carriers (APC) with a heavy machine gun mounted on top, and a crew of 11, a driver, commander, the heavy machine gunner, and 8 light infantry soldiers in the back.
Even with this setup, because of a rather weak mandate and, confusing rules of engagement, we often found ourselves being stopped and held back in various military checkpoints. The checkpoints were usually operated by just a couple of militia soldiers from one local militia or another who knew our situation and would indeed take full advantage of controlling our movements in our area of operations, which was frustrating for us to say the least.
We were stationed at a former Bosnian military air base in a city named Tuzla. For many months we would take frequent incoming artillery attacks from nearby mountain tops where Serbian forces had set up artillery positions for the sole purpose of harassing us at the air base. During one of the attacks, a Norwegian soldier was killed when the vehicle he was driving to get to a shelter was struck by an artillery shell.
On Dec. 20, 1995, the UN mission as a result of the Dayton Agreement was transferred over to NATO. We had just a few short weeks of getting all our vehicles painted from the UN white color to their original camouflage paint scheme. Apparently, this change in mandate did not reach the guys covering the Serb artillery positions who for months had inflicted death and destruction on us at the air base.
They fired at us again, but this time we had people who called in an air strike by U.S. F-16 fighter jets, scrambled from the Aviano Air Base in Italy. I have to admit it was a sight to behold to see them take out these artillery positions once and for all.
As mentioned in the beginning, this mission was the ninth and last one for me. I had just turned 31, not really old in the military, but certainly a little older than most of the replacements that came to relieve us. I felt that it was time to end my time with the Norwegian Armed Forces after nine tours, lifelong friendships, and hardships, which shaped me into what I am today.
If I had the chance, I would do it all over again, and probably adjust a few decisions I made back then to wiser ones that age and experience bring with it. It was also during this last mission, at a vacation trip to visit friends in Atlanta where I met the sweet woman who would be my wife. This year we will be celebrating our 22nd year together.
Until next time, have fun, be safe, and chase your dreams.