Excess U.S. military equipment on the way to those helping to rebuild Bosnia
January 27, 2004
EAGLE BASE, Bosnia and Herzegovina — The U.S. military has so much excess equipment in Bosnia that it’s literally giving it away.
Under the Humanitarian Assistance Excess Property Program, the military is donating desks, chairs, computers, tractors, medical equipment, heaters and construction supplies to organizations working to promote economic growth.
While the number of troops in the country steadily decreased over the years, the equipment did not follow suit.
Equipment left behind was identified as excess, and specific information was placed in a military database, where other units around the world could stake a claim to it, said Maj. Kristine Shelstad, deputy civil military operations officer with the 34th Infantry Division.
After some time passed and no one asked for the items, they became eligible for donation.
The U.S. Embassy in Bosnia is in charge of the donation program, and the military has volunteered to help find and nominate the most deserving recipients.
“Your average [nongovernmental organization] or local organization that do good work in small towns, they don’t know about [the donations],” Shelstad said. “Our goal is to find those organizations.”
Some of the equipment — tents, heaters, tables, kitchen supplies — will end up in the hands of the Bosnian Red Cross to use in emergency situations, such as floods.
With help from the U.N. High Commission for Refugees, other items will be distributed to refugees rebuilding homes.
“We’re trying to match the needs to excess,” Shelstad said.
Much will go to local and international NGOs that are working to improve living conditions and spur economic growth in many small communities in northeastern Bosnia, the sector covered by U.S. troops.
“We’re trying to support those organizations that will have a big effect. We won’t be giving a tractor to just any guy,” Shelstad said.
However, items such as tractors, forklifts and vehicles could end up in the hands of farmers’ associations. The U.S. Agency for International Development, or USAID, has been working on educating farmers — many of whom recently returned to their prewar homes and have few resources available and low or nonexistent incomes — on starting up profitable farming, growing fruits and vegetables that can find their place in the market.
USAID can help the military locate the well-organized associations who could prosper with help of a tractor that all could share.
“We’re keeping our eyes open and seeing anything that can be reutilized, donated,” Shelstad said. “We want nothing to go to waste that can be used by these organizations.”
Other items such as computers will probably go to schools.
Although the military cannot put an exact dollar figure on the donations, some estimate it could potentially be $10 million to $15 million.
“We’re helping the local organizations, but it’s helping us too,” Shelstad said.
She explained that if the military held on to the equipment, most of it would end up in storage, for which the government would have to pay rent. Also, it may be cheaper to simply buy some items locally than to pay to pack them and ship those items to certain parts of the world.
One other alternative — to auction off the equipment — was not as appealing as donating to deserving organizations, she said.
“If it goes [on sale] the government will get pennies on the dollar,” she said. “It’s a better investment to increase the ability of a local organization to help its own people.
“It’s a good investment in the future.”