Furling of colors at Eagle Base marks end of Bosnia mission for U.S. troops
November 25, 2004
EAGLE BASE, Bosnia-Herzegovina — It was part reunion, part celebration. A look back at the past. A hopeful glance into the future.
A ceremony nine years in the making took place Wednesday at the sprawling base camp in the Balkans that thousands of Americans have called home during the last decade.
Task Force Eagle — the primary U.S. mission in Bosnia — is no more.
“This ceremony officially means mission complete,” Gen. B.B. Bell, commander of U.S. Army Europe, told a gymnasium full of American and allied personnel — or at least as full as it gets in Bosnia-Herzegovina these days. “And mission accomplished.”
Command Sgt. Maj. Thomas Severe furled the mission colors as Brig. Gen. Timothy Wright held the flag. And, just like that, the mission was, at least symbolically, completed.
U.S. soldiers will still be on the ground for a short time. But all but about 250 will be home in plenty of time to spend Christmas with their families. The remainder will continue serving under NATO auspices, even as the European Union assumes responsibility for the mission in country.
Stabilization Force, which would mark its eight-year birthday in December, won’t make it that far. Its last day of existence is Dec. 2; that’s when the EU officially takes over in a ceremony in Sarajevo.
Just about all the American contingent could be gone by then. Much of the current rotation — SFOR 15 — is already back in the States. A few hundred left Oct. 31. More flew out Nov. 15.
This rotation has been longer than most. Headed by the 38th Infantry Division of the Indiana National Guard, about 950 soldiers had been on the ground since March before the recent departures.
That number is just a fraction of the 20,000 Americans who initially comprised the mission in December 1995. Bell, a brigadier general and assistant commander for the 1st Infantry Division at the time, was on hand as soldiers of the 1st Armored Division bridged the storm-strengthened Sava River to allow hundreds of vehicles to cross into the country.
“It was a sporting event for any army,” he said, marveling on the conditions that were overcome by the 1st AD, other Army units and the Air Force in getting troops and supplies into the country. He said it took about 400 trains, 1,400 aircraft sorties, 440 buses and 250 convoys to get the initial equipment and materiel into Bosnia.
Since then, countless tons have been shipped into the country as rotation after rotation of active-duty, then Reserve forces, served in Bosnia. Wright, the outgoing task force commander, estimated that 100,000 Americans have served here. More than a few of those served more than once.
The task force was first led by the Germany-based 1st AD. The 1st ID followed for a year, then gave way to the 1st AD again. After stints by the 1st Cavalry Division and 10th Mountain Division, the mission largely was taken over by the Army Reserve and National Guard. Most of their rotations were for six months.
Five former task force commanders were on hand for the ceremony, along with former Sgt. Maj. of the Army Jack Tilley, who was the top enlisted soldier in Bosnia during the initial mission.
“I think there’s nostalgia,” Bell said of the mission ending. “There’s no sad feelings.”
Bell said he believes the Army has made a difference in Bosnia and those who have served in the country should be proud.
“Soldiers of Task Force Eagle, past and present, this is your legacy.”