My National Guard unit was sent to Croatia in support of the Bosnia mission in the summer of 1997. Basically, we were a glorified truck stop for supply convoys heading into Bosnia until the railroad bridges over the Sava River, the northern border of Bosnia, could be replaced. All of the bridges over the river had been blown during the war.
In the fall there were riots at the Brcko bridge. Brcko is pronounced Birchko. That’s the secret of Serbo-Croatian, any ‘e,’ ‘i,’ or ‘u’
sound in English is left out when they spell the word, plus the ‘c in the middle of the word sounds like ‘ch,’ and at the end of the word is either ‘ch,’ or ‘ts.’
We were at the town of Slavonski Brod , west of Brcko, and were waiting for the riots to hit our area.
During this time there was a special forces captain and his sergeant that were training the Croatian army. These two would come to our base for their mail, go to the shopette and so forth.
The officers on base would wear their shiny rank on their hats so that we could see it and so we could then salute them. The SF captain wore subdued rank [painted black] on his hat. At dusk he would stand in the shadows, there many as we did not have any lights, so that you could not see him and then when you passed by without saluting him, would jump out, call you to attention and yell at you for not rendering the proper military salute to a superior.
When he was finished, the captain would find another shadow to hide in and ambush someone else. His sergeant would spend a minute or so apologizing for the captain, the jist of it being that he wasn’t normally like this.
While the National Guard guys tend to be laid back, almost all of us had been in the regular army and would salute the officers, call them “sir” or “ma’am”, say “airborne” or whatever needed to be said.
Then the day of the riot at the Slav-Brod bridge came.
The reaction force sped off like a NASCAR race followed by the command staff. The intel major got our captain and me to go with him. I took a camera with a zoom lens so that I could take pictures of the trouble makers and we whisked away in my humvee.
The riot was anti-climactic. The MPs on the Bosnian end of the bridge were on the ball and closed up the road block before anyone could get onto the bridge. The infantry squad that was stationed nearby was in position to back the MPs up within seconds. The reaction force stood by and I got good pictures of some guys who quickly melted away into the crowd, made up mostly of women and children.
We then saw some guys with rifles on buildings on the Bosnian side, so Apache gunships were dispatched to deal with the potential snipers.
Then the SF captain showed up. He had his Kevlar armor and helmet on and was being followed by his sergeant.
I was standing next to my captain and major, who were keeping close to our colonel. I handed the camera to my captain and said, “Watch this.”
Before anyone could say or do anything, I quickly walked over to the SF captain, stopped and rendered him the most perfect salute that I have ever done. It snapped into place, my fingers coming to a halt, perfectly aligned along the small rim of my Kevlar helmet. I shouted, “Good Afternoon Captain!”
He about shit his drawers. His eyes got huge, he threw his arms up as he yelled, “Don’t salute me! Ya trying to get me killed?”
I said, “What do you mean? I’m just saluting a superior officer, like you told me to do.”
His sergeant guffawed and quickly covered his mouth as he turned away. The officers I had just left all laughed out loud. The SF captain turned and stalked back toward the Croatian side of the bridge.
I walked back over to my officers were standing and accepted the camera back from my captain. Our first sergeant appeared, I didn’t know he was on the bridge up to that moment, and patted me on my back. He had a big grin on his face.
I don’t remember much of what was said, but it was light-hearted, even the command to not salute anyone when snipers were present. Even if I yelled “Sniper Check!”