Lord Mayor: Life as the Mayor of Tuzla Air Base

by Major David B. Lorenz

Let's start with a good war story. There I was on a C-130 Hercules flying to Tuzla Air Base, Bosnia-Herzegovina, as a member of a group of soldiers later known as the Tuzla-10. We were one of the first elements deployed in support of Operation JOINT ENDEAVOR. I am a member of Task Force Eagle (TFE) on the first fixed-wing plane to try to land at Tuzla Air Base since June 1994. The date is 5 December 1995. I am an intelligence-planner augmentee on a 90- to 120-day loan to the 1st Armor Division. It is the main element in the Multinational Division North, one of three multinational divisions comprising the Implementation Force (IFOR) supporting stability operations in Bosnia-Herzegovina. I am to be the key intelligence link on the ground in Tuzla until the arrival of TFE's intelligence section.
Within days of my arrival, I discovered I was not the key American intelligence point of contact in all of northwestern Bosnia-Herzegovina. Instead I became the unelected mayor of a small air base which was a former MiG and later United Nations Protection Force (UNPROFOR) base. Tuzla Air Base would soon become ground-zero for thousands of American soldiers, who were waiting across the Sava river and collecting at U.S. Air Force bases throughout Europe. As Lord Mayor ( Slum-Lord 6 on the radio), my function was to prepare Tuzla Air Base to house and fully support up to 3,000 soldiers, on a base built to hold 425 during the Cold War and 850 under the United Nations. My dreams of being Mr. Intel in Bosnia were now shattered, scattered in the endless mud of Bosnia-Herzegovina.

A Typical Day

I usually began a typical day as mayor of Tuzla Air Base around 0530 with a run to the front gate on a mile-long stretch of road. Then I am off to the office and my early morning meeting with the leader of the Bosnovian Rangers, a group of 40 local workers supporting missions for the air base mayor's office. This group filled general construction and labor requirements throughout the air base. The Rangers were paid 10 German Deutsch Marks and one French ration box per day. We often broke the Rangers up into groups of three or four and took them to locations around the base where their tasks included filling thousands of sand bags in support of the infantry's requirements and clearing small shrubs and trees from areas around buildings. TFE followed the same policy used earlier by the United Nations. If you asked the Rangers to go into an area and they went, it was safe to assume that the location was clear of mines and safe to enter. If the Rangers shook their heads from side-to-side, then you knew the areas were, in all likelihood, mined. Not a very scientific approach to mine clearing, but useful given the mine clearing assets available.
Next on the daily agenda was a meeting or a phone conversation with the Commander of the Norwegian Logistic Battalion (NORLOGBAT), the primary resident of the air base before the arrival of TFE. His outfit was a very professional military organization which logged up to 300,000 kilometers per month hauling supplies during the UNPROFOR period supporting all the U.N. forces in Northern Bosnia. My conversations with the NORLOGBAT Commander involved a number of issues, including
However, more often than not we talked about trying to find materials belonging to his battalion that seemed to have disappeared. For example, there was the case of the storage connex containing 4,520 French rations. Shortly after the arrival of more units to the base, the connex turned up empty and the rations were nowhere to be found. However, empty French rations boxes by the hundreds were found in dumpsters all around the base.
NORLOGBAT had a number of other issues, some small, some large involving TFE personnel over the first few weeks of the deployment. Examples include
The Norwegians for the most part took these incidents in good humor. I pointed out that the TFE was like a 5-ton elephant, sometimes you control the elephant and sometimes the elephant controls you.
While relations with the Norwegians were good most of the time, relations with the other U.N. personnel were often a bit more strained. The main problem involved U.N. vehicles. These included pickup trucks and some old 5-ton trucks. When elements of TFE began to arrive, these vehicles were parked in a number of locations around the base. There was a plan for TFE to take control of some of these vehicles to support operations in and around Tuzla. The request had to go from Tuzla to Sarajevo to Zagreb to New York and back. The United Nations is not known as a very quick-response kind of organization and processing this request was no exception.
As we waited to hear from the United Nations' higher-ups, some interesting events started to occur. These borrowed vehicles started to move and reappear all around the base. Every few days, the U.N. transportation manager would provide me a printed list of the numbers of the borrowed vehicles. The list started small, four or five, but grew rapidly, maxing out at about 45. Some elements within the United Nations at Tuzla Air Base stated that the vehicles were stolen, but I pointed out that since the vehicles never left the air base, they had just temporarily relocated.
This logic worked for the most part. No one was charged with grand theft auto, and the United Nations finally got all of their vehicles back. However, a large number seemed to have had their spare tires permanently moved to other locations. After much delay the United Nations said it would not sell many of the requested vehicles to the IFOR, but did bill IFOR $2.5 million for the use of the borrowed vehicles.

Latrines and Gravel

When not playing seasoned diplomat with the Norwegians or United Nations personnel, my main concerns were latrines, gravel and tent floors, in that order. The contracting officer, a key player in the Tuzla-10, found two local contractors who wanted to build latrines in support of TFE. They each had their own style. There was the top-of-line latrine with separate stalls, nicely slated roofs, blue toilet-seat covers, and more. The other was the Beverly Hillbilly style, a open-bay 3-holer with a tar-paper roof and a bent nail for a lock. We needed lots of latrines, so we purchased many of both styles. The first delivery of latrines was a major media event, covered live by Cable News Network (CNN) and a number of other media giants. Two local nationals, whom I called Larry and Moe, produced the Beverly Hillbilly-style latrines. They built these latrines in an unheated, cement building with dirt floors, using chain saws to cut the wood, because the power to the building had been cut during the war. Larry and Moe would show up at all hours with latrines loaded on a flat-bed truck. I would then have to find a forklift and driver to unload the latrines.
Almost as important as getting latrines was cleaning them. One option was to burn the latrine pots like they did in the Gulf War. For those who had witnessed this event, it was not the preferred option, so we worked with the United Nations to use a vehicle we called an SST. The "S--- Sucker Truck" was driven around the base 24-hours a day by some local nationals under TFE contract. This was not the best job in the world, and the SST crews were more than willing to make sure that I was aware of it. Using a large amount of sign language and much pointing, these crews would visit me each day asking for more money, new boots or gloves, and more American cigarettes. Arranging the supply, installation, and cleaning of latrines occupied a fair amount of my time as mayor of the air base.
Word had come down from the Death Star. This was the name the soldiers used for the large German Fest tent which held the Task Force Eagle Tactical Operations Center. The word was the leadership wanted to see a sea of gravel. With that order, we set to work to make that happen.
We signed contracts with a number of local gravel companies for thousands of tons of gravel. Detailed coordination was made with NORLOGBAT for the heavy equipment needed to push the gravel around to build the parking lots and sites for the tent cities. We used the Bosnovian Rangers to help find the locations at which to dump and spread the gravel. When all was in place, we called for delivery of our gravel. Nothing happened. We waited for the gravel trucks to arrive, but no one came. The Norwegians sat on their heavy equipment waiting to support our efforts, but no trucks rolled through the front gates. Where was our sea of gravel?
Soon NORLOGBAT moved its equipment back to support its own missions. While we made calls to the local companies about the status of the contracts, high echelons within the Death Star questioned us. Bosnian workers are very much like other workers from this region of the world. This is not to say that these workers do not work long and hard, because indeed they do. It is just that the sense of urgency is sometimes not as great as it is, for example, with the Germans or Americans. When we ask for delivery of something on a Tuesday, we expect it to come on Tuesday. In Bosnia, if you ask for it on Tuesday, any day that week is close enough.
Over a 72-hour period, well over one hundred gravel trucks passed through the front gate of the air base. With the Norwegian equipment temporarily relocated to other projects, we just piled the gravel wherever we could find a spot. Soon there were mountains of gravel all around the air base. The Sea of Gravel Days, as it was known, also created the first ever traffic grid-lock situation in the history of the Tuzla Air Base. At times during those days, the main road of the air base looked very much like any freeway in southern California during the morning rush hour. Tuzla finally had its sea of gravel.

Media Circus

Another of my many responsibilities as mayor was dealing with members of the media. Early in the deployment, there were fewer than 50 Americans inside the air base and more than 300 members of the media outside the front gate. The major news organizations all built large platforms near the gate and placed cameras on them, trying to see what was going on inside the air base. Interview requests poured in to the Joint Information Bureau set up by TFE to handle the media. During my brief tenure in office, Swedish television, the Washington Post, the Boston Globe, and the CBS Morning News all interviewed me. In general, the media was most supportive of all the efforts being made to bring peace to Bosnia-Herzegovina. I found the vast majority of the media representatives to be just average people, trying to do a job like everyone else. However, I offer the following observations about the media in no particular order of importance:

The "Breezes" and A Texas Honky-Tonk

In closing, I offer two short stories as a way to show the many different types of situations I had to deal with as mayor. One day the phone rang. Sir, we have someone here from the State Department. I found two gentlemen dressed in black overcoats, wearing civilian clothing and unpierceable dark sunglasses on a cloudy, rainy and foggy late afternoon. They had emerged from a dark-colored 4x4 jeep with tinted windows and German license plates. These two certainly did not look as if they were from the State Department. They really were members of a multi-letter organization and were here to help me. I pointed out that unless they could build latrines, drive a gravel truck, or had about 1,000 tent floors in that 4x4, they were of little use to me. However, I did link them up with people who could use their help.
Over the next few weeks, during their comings and goings, I noticed that they were always wearing those dark sunglasses, no matter whether it was day or night. Whenever I recall my first encounter with those two, I remember a recurring character named Lieutenant Colonel Flagg in that old sitcom, "M*A*S*H, who called himself "The Wind because he came and went unseen. These two became Breeze One and Breeze Two.
I was sitting at my desk on a chilly afternoon, when the door opened and in walked a member of the Tuzla City Council with a businessman from Denmark. The businessman explained that he is half-American and half-Danish and he has a grand opportunity for me. He went on to explain how he planned to help all the soldiers that would soon arrive by building a 2,000-seat Texas-style honky-tonk bar and restaurant in downtown Tuzla. The gentleman wanted me to assure him that all the soldiers would be allowed to leave the air base to support his venture. He went on to say that he had all the required permits from the Tuzla city government, and he showed me a set of plans as he continued to explain his well-thought-out plans. During his very serious presentation, it took everything in me to keep from laughing. I directed them to the Civil Affairs Office and decided to let them break the bad news.

Finale

In closing, I would like to say that my time as the mayor of Tuzla Air Base was a very interesting and unique military experience. I had a job totally different from any other that I have had in my 15-year military career. The hours were long, but the rewards were tangible. I could actually see and touch the results. I had a great time meeting a lot of interesting people from nations around the world. I really enjoyed helping construct a base camp from the ground up. It was a unique opportunity that I will long remember.
Major Lorenz is currently an Intelligence Exercise Planner for the Joint Training Analysis and Simulation Center at Suffolk, Virginia. His education includes bachelor of arts degrees in both Political Science and History from the University of Northern Colorado. Readers can contact him at (757) 686-7719, DSN 564-9100 extension 7719, and E-mail [email protected]