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Unit Shirts: Getting Started | Gallery | Pricing | Contact Info LESSONS LEARNED FROM THE BALKANS: By Janos Fischer
elow are some lessons I learned from my experience in a shooting incident that occurred in the Balkans. Our four-man team driving a rented KIA 4x4 rolled up on a Balkan infantry position quite by accident. From a distance of 300-400 meters they fired on our vehicle. Initially seven or eight rounds impacted, one hitting and wounding the driver. We evacuated the vehicle and took cover. For the next 40 to 50 minutes we endured a heavy volume of constant fire and were unable to respond and/or escape. We all changed in a very significant way that day. I hope that no one from our agency, government, military or civilian will ever have to endure what we did. One cannot presume, however, that it will never happen again. The nature of our work takes us to various hotspots and puts us in harms way at times. It is my hope that in writing this, the reader will learn and remember what I did that day. Life favors those who can quickly learn from their experiences and mistakes. It is, however, even more beneficial to learn from others experience and mistakes. Cognite tute!

ITI (International Training Incorporated) /conditioning was invaluable.

When the rounds began to impact the vehicle, I instinctively slouched down in my seat to get as much cover from the engine block as possible. When the driver was hit, I immediately reached down to the gas pedal and grabbed the steering wheel to gain control of the vehicle. Unfortunately it was a manual vehicle and I was unable to manipulate the clutch/brake/stick. When I realized nothing more could be done, I opened my door, grabbed my vest and the driver and rolled out of the vehicle.

Prior military (especially infantry) training was invaluable.

I instinctively took cover right away. I properly low crawled and had to remind another team member how to do the same. After improvising a white flag from my bulletproof vest and receiving direct fire, I remembered to extend my arm above my head wave it as far back as possible from my actual position. Thirty minutes or so into the incident, with nowhere to go, I produced a lighter from my pocket and began to light a fire. The fire would have burned back toward the soldiers positions (very dry brush) and provided some concealment for an escape and evasion. The problem was communicating and coordinating with the two other team members who were further out in a field and unable to see me. I extinguished the fire.

Trauma medical training was essential.

I was able to properly assess and treat the wounded team member. A knee jerk reaction would have been to put a tourniquet on his arm. I recognized that this action would possibly have cost him his arm. His wound was serious but the light blood flow was cleaning the dirt out of it. We did not have water to clean it and therefore wrapping it may have only aggravated the injury and caused a serious infection. I elevated his arm and put pressure on his artery to retard the blood flow. I also elevated his feet and treated for shock. I assessed his leg wound and treated it. I received this training in the US Marine Corps. While it was enough for that particular situation, I have decided to pursue further training. Had the wounds been life threatening I may not have been able to save my teammate.

Do not rely on someone else to provide essential gear in a timely fashion. Bring your own.

Because the Marine Corps does "less with more", I learned as a young Marine to purchase my own gear. I had a first aid kit, survival kit and a navigational tool with me from the onset of this mission. Initially before setting out I asked the Ops NCO for a first aid kit for the vehicle. I was concerned that we may either witness or be involved in an accident in our time in the Balkans. The only rule of the road is there are no rules. It was deemed a low priority and there were delays in acquiring one. Even after the incident the response was "Well you don't need one now, do you?" The first aid kits (locally purchased) did not arrive until a few days before I departed. The whole process took 3 weeks or so. My off the shelf GPS proved to be more inconspicuous (looks like a cell phone) and more accurate than the ones provided. A GPS is very useful when you need to tell someone EXACTLY where you are. Imagine a traffic accident or an ambush. Time is of the essence and fumbling around with a map may not be possible. A survival kit (SAS) style is a handy item to have. It should include five or so gold coins or small gold bars which can be purchased on line. This may be able to get you out of a jam and can be officially claimed as a loss later. Border guards or someone offering you safe haven can be a lot more hospitable when you give them a treat. In addition to this you should have a piece of sturdy paper with an American flag on one side and a note on the other (in the native language) stating that you are an American citizen and to please return you to the Embassy or the nearest military installation. The "you will be rewarded" should bring a glimmer to their eye.

An American flag to wave (1 ˝ ft by 2 ˝) on a telescoping car antennae may be a good item to have. War zones are chaotic. They may not realize they are shooting at Americans and may stop when they see our flag. On the other hand, you may want to read the news that morning to see what the political climate and people sentiment is that day. Perceptions of America change like the wind.

You can purchase everything you need from US Cavalry and/or Brigade Quartermasters on line. My kit contains the following:

Otter water proof box / small flashlight / wire saw / long burning candle / small thermal blanket / waterproof matches / small compass / a snare kit / pencil / small knife / five one ounce $100 Credit Suisse gold bars / lock pick /signal mirror / medical card (blood type & allergies)

The first aid kit, gps, binoculars, flag and binoculars and a bottle of Gatorade or water can be put in a small backpack and kept with you or near you at all times. If you have to ditch your vehicle you can grab it on your way out. It may help save your or your teammates lives.

Always keep OPSEC in mind.

Who wants to question someone like that? You can always act a little goofy too. I noticed the bad guys were really watching us to see how shaken up we were. If they expect you to be disturbed after something like that, then all the better for you. I smoked cigarettes until I didn't want to smoke another cigarette in my life… AND THEN I SMOKED MORE! Their response was empathy and they actually became polite. One of the members of the team decided to act calm and unaffected. Who do you think they wanted to talk to?

Be prepared (as much as possible) for a worse case scenario.

I learned just how important it is to balance risk versus gain. ALWAYS keep that in mind. When things go wrong, it happens incredibly fast. In addition, it is a downward spiral. It is difficult to maintain a level of awareness all the time but it is possible. You have to discipline yourself through conditioning yourself.

The only value of small arms is if you have a cohesive team that knows when NOT to shoot or draw.

Small guns do not discourage men who are firing big guns.

Have a means of communication ON you at all times with preprogrammed numbers.

Using his cell phone, one team member saved our lives. I am convinced the Balkan soldiers knew we were Americans. I also suspect that after realizing they had opened fire on US Diplomats (we had been shouting "Don't shoot! No shoot! US Diplomat! US Embassy! Americans!") the soldiers were committed to killing us. One reoccurring deception technique is to kill people and blame their enemy for it to gain sympathy. They even do this to their own nationals. Because a phone call went out to our DAO, the foreign unit realized they were now accountable for their actions.

Sit on your vest or place it up against your door if you are not wearing it.

Sit on it in case you go over a mine. Yes, they do dig up hard surface roads too. Put it between you and the door so that if your vehicle comes under fire, you might have a chance. Either way you will be able to grab it if you have to leave the vehicle quickly.

Realize that your diplomatic passport will not get you a cup of coffee when bad guys get a hold of you.

Like Chicago cops, pretty much no average soldier in the field cares if you have a diplomatic passport. In fact, they may see it as a chance to give you a bit of grief so they will have a story to tell for the next 10 years at their local café. Don't expect an attitude shift and don't become confrontational when you don't get one. A rifle butt to the mouth spells h-u-m-i-l-i-t-y in the Balkans. A French collection team learned that lesson the hard way a week before we arrived in country.

Build rapport and be confident.

If you doubt you are better trained than them you will lose. Do not get cocky. Ask for coffee and offer American cigarettes. If you do not smoke, fake it. In this situation smoking is actually good for your health. I immediately began building rapport the minute we were rounded up to our detention at the military station. I offered my first name and asked theirs, I shook hands, I told a couple jokes, and I offered American Marlboro's. It all worked. I asked for water first. I was offered coffee and accepted. I smoked like a chimney. I mirrored the soldiers. I noticed the interrogator had begun to get cottonmouth. During the questioning I took away the interrogator's water bottle and repeatedly poured myself cups of water. I held onto the water until I could interrupt his questioning of another team member. So with an altruistic offer of a cup of water, I managed to interject a break in his line of questioning and more importantly, his thought process. I poured it slowly and placed it in front of him. I interrupted him again to ask if he wanted more. I continued to interrupt him with an offer of a cigarette. I then moved around the room stretching. You have to take control without appearing to take control. It works.

Don't be afraid to talk about it.

The only way to get over something traumatic is to talk about it. You'll find that others who have gone through something similar will know exactly how you felt and can offer solace and solid advice. In relating my experience to my colleagues, I have found a new kinship in my co-workers and manager/supervisor especially those who have been in combat or had similar situations. If you bottle your experience up you most likely are setting the stage for some future problems.

Semper Fi!

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