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Patrol perils

Staff Sgt. Patrick Pender briefed the soldiers of a convoy of five Humvees as they prepared to move out on a patrol in a dangerous region.

"Zvornik and Bratunac, OK?" he asked, announcing the towns to be patrolled. "The biggest hazard we have here today, men, is like always - mines, mines, mines, mines! OK?"The 22 soldiers, members of Charlie Company, 2nd Division, 6th Infantry - stood listening intently beside their vehicles.

Pender continued through his checklist, saying Humvees were to stay 100 to 150 yards apart. He told the drivers to go no faster than 30 miles an hour, 15 mph when going through towns.

Vehicles ahead would inform those following when it would be safe to go around obstructions such as Bosnian wagons stopped at the edge of the road. They would have to act promptly because other cars could zoom along the winding roads.

"Whenever the vehicle in front of you tells you to pass, YOU PASS," Pender emphasized.

"All right, let's go!"

A soldier yelled the battle cry, "Hooah!"

A Deseret News reporter and photographer went along, riding in Humvee 18, a wide, heavily armored vehicle painted with gray-and-green camouflage. Like nearly all vehicles of the coalition peacekeepers, it was marked SFOR, for Stabilization Force.

Spec. Eric Keeney, a 20-year-old from Detroit, drove. Serving as TC and operating the radio was Cpl. Rudolph Walton, 24, Hinesville, Ga. The gunner was Cpl. Tony Deschamps, 21, Penn Yan, N.Y.

Deschamps, after putting a Beatles CD in a player, climbed into a sling so he could man the machine gun, riding with his torso outside and goggles over his eyes.

Nearly the entire route was through the Republika Srpska, the break-away republic that Bosnian Serbs set up within Bosnia-Herzegovina. Although Zvornik and Bratunac were once Muslim cities, the Muslims were chased out of the region - or murdered - and now both were Serb towns.

Some places showed few signs of the war. At a new home site, men mixed concrete in a plastic pail. Haystacks shaped like skinny cones were piled around poles. A woman stood watching her cow, which was drinking from a stream. People ate in an outdoor cafe.

Laundry hung across buildings. Substantial homes with orange-red tile roofs showed off their microwave dishes.

But elsewhere, shells of blown-up buildings dotted the green countryside. For mile after mile, every house was rubble. A car riddled with bullet holes lay on its side in a ditch.

Soldiers in the convoy waved at everyone they passed. A typical scene: A sour-looking man in black clothing was followed by his wife, also dressed in black, and their children, whose clothes looked American. The mother ignored the Americans, the father sneered and their kids waved happily.

A bridge of steel girders spans the Drina River at Zvornik, stretching from the Republika Srpska to the country of Serbia. Zvornik has multi-story buildings, shops and an open-air merry-go-round.

Children rode the merry-go-round to the sounds of Eastern music. Families ate dinner on cafe patios.

"We're basically just going to recon this bridge," said Lt. Anthony Williams. "We've had personnel from Serbia comin' over into Bosnia with illegal weapons and stuff, and we're just here to recon it to make sure."

Leaving guards with the Humvees, a foot patrol headed toward the bridge, going through town to reach it. Wearing their flak jackets and helmets, carrying radio gear and M-16 automatic rifles, they walked uphill past stores, cafes and apartment buildings. One soldier talked excitedly about the Utah Jazz.

The bridge was 30 or 40 feet above the pea-green Drina. People with bundles walked across, most paying scant attention to the soldiers.

At the middle of the bridge a short man came from the Serbian side and talked to the soldiers. An interpreter said the Serbian guard at the end of the bridge sent him to tell the soldiers not to cross the center line that marks the separation of the Republika Srpska and the Serbian Republic.

A soldier reported the platoon had gone into Serbia the previous day. "We're SFOR, and yeah, we go where we want," another agreed.

The patrol continued. Deseret News photographer Chuck Wing took photos.

At the Serbian end, a uniformed border guard spoke angrily in his language, pointing to Wing's camera. He repeated a phrase that sounded like "No photos."

Then he said something unmistakable.

"Film!" he insisted, making a gesture with both hands as if he were pulling film from Wing's camera and exposing it to the sunlight.

"Nope!" Wing replied.

Suddenly, the guard grabbed Wing's arm, locking it in a hard grasp. Wing's camera fell onto his chest. The guard tried to pull him toward Serbia.

Williams stepped between them and put his hand on Wing's. Without speaking, he pulled it toward the platoon until the guard let go. The Americans turned and walked back across the bridge.

"Hey, wait till we get to the middle part of the bridge before you take some more snapshots," Williams advised.

"Gotcha," Wing said.

With the patrol there to prevent any confiscation, Williams added, "He wasn't going to take your film."

"The sight of a camera scares them because they don't know who's on that list," Williams said, referring to lists and posters of suspected war criminals sought for trial. If a wanted person shows up on a photographer's film, the authorities might know where to find him.

"There's so many people on the list."

Thursday: Will the peace last?