The legendary 5th Guards Brigade “Sokolovi“, marked its 25th anniversary
Ahead of the 12th anniversary of the establishment of the Guards Armoured Mechanized Brigade of the Croatian Army, we spoke with the Brigade’s Commander Colonel Mijo Validžić, who assumed that post in July last year. In an interview with CROMIL, he revealed the most important exercises that the member of the Guards Armoured Mechanized Brigade will take part in this year. He also addressed the return of the 2nd Mechanized Battalion “Pume” (Pumas) to Varaždin after a ten-year absence and the collaboration with civilian authorities in towns to which the members of the Brigade are deployed.
Could you look back at some training events that the members of the Guards Armoured Mechanized Brigade took part in at home and abroad?
The Brigade is very active. Along with our regular tasks, we take part in numerous training activities and preparations for peace-keeping operations and missions at home and abroad. We have made significant progress in supporting civilian institutions. I would single out the annual exercise Mir (Peace), during which our forces are certified for NATO mission Resolute Support in Afghanistan, as one of the most important exercises in the previous year. I also want to mention exercises Vulkan (Volcano), Sokol (Falcon) and Kuna (Marten), the latter of which involved our new Kiowa Warrior military helicopters. Together with the Croatian Navy, we practised the embarkation of fighting vehicles onto vessels, their transportation and their disembarkation. The crown of last year’s training was Velebit 18 – Joint Force, in which over a thousand members of the Guards Armoured Mechanized Brigade demonstrated their manpower, technology, capabilities, etc. I believe that we demonstrated our readiness to perform our basic duty – the defence of our homeland – in a favourable light. We also demonstrate our readiness to support civilian institutions. As an important component of the Homeland Security System, our members make use of all of their capabilities and the technology at their disposal to swiftly and effectively assist civilians in floods, fires and other natural disasters.
What are the most important exercises that the members of the Guards Armoured Mechanized Brigade will take part in this year?
This year will perhaps be less demanding than the previous one. As is our annual custom, we started the season with exercise Mir 19-1. Coming up nest is exercise Shield, in which the Air Defence Battalion will conduct live ammunition shooting of air targets. Exercise Puma 19 will be conducted at Training Range “Eugen Kvaternik” in Slunj in July. This is the main training event of the Croatian Army and one of the most complex exercises planned and conducted by the Croatian Army. The exercise will be hosted by the Command of the Guards Armoured Mechanized Brigade, while the 2nd Mechanized Battalion “Pume” will be the primary training group. Other participants in the exercise will be the subordinate units of the Croatian Army (reserve infantry regiments, the Air Defence Regiment, the Engineer Regiment, the Support Command and the military intelligence module of the Intelligence Activity Centre), the Support Command and the Croatian Air Force. So as to meet the requirements for the exercise, we had to conduct a number of activities, from individual and group firings to field exercises and simulations at the Simulations Centre. A unique activity for this year is our participations in exercise Combined Resolve XII, which is to take place in Hohenfels, the Federal Republic of Germany in August. Our Brigade and the Tank Company will play the role of the opposing force (OPFOR). 65 members of the Brigade will be deployed there with 16 tanks.
What international missions and operations lie ahead of the members of the Guards Armoured Mechanized Brigade?
As far as international missions and operations are concerned, 40 members of the Brigade have just been deployed to a mission in Afghanistan. In October, 70 members of the Self-Propelled Multiple Rocket Launcher Battalion will be deployed to eFPBG-USA in Poland. Members who were previously deployed there proved to be fantastic and did everything that was expected of them. We received praise from everyone with whom we collaborated on our tasks, particularly from our American partners.
Are you pleased with the M-84 tanks which have arrived from revision in Đuro Đaković Special Vehicles?
Some tanks have gone through a complete revision and we are satisfied with the process. Although the tanks have not been fully modernized, their radio sets have been replaced in accordance with NATO standards. This will allow us to effectively execute tasks given to us.
Does the next Long-Term Development Plan foresee the procurement of new tanks or AMVs? Which resources are you in need of the most?
The Long-Term Development Plan has not been completed yet. It is being drafted and should be finished by the end of the year. After having gone through a revision, the M-84 tanks meet our needs for the upcoming period. As far as mechanized infantry is concerned, it is equipped with the BVP M-80 infantry fighting vehicles which serve their purpose and enable the execution of all tasks. Soldiers are always in want of more means to train on and we hope that we shall receive some newer means soon. Until then, we shall do everything we can to completely fulfil all the tasks given to us.
The members of the Logistics Brigade of the Slovenian Armed Forces took part in last year’s competition for the best tank crew and armoured crew which was organized by the Guards Armoured Mechanized Brigade. Are there any plans for the members of partner countries’ armed forces to take part in this year’s edition?
The competition was started so that we could evaluate where our tank and armoured crews stand in terms of techniques, procedures and capabilities. So that we could realize our objective and transform our competition into an international one, our crews have initiated negotiations across all levels with crews from other countries. I have just signed a Letter of Invitation for Slovenian soldiers, whom we expect to see at this year’s competition, as well. The members of the Armed Forces of Bosnia and Herzegovina have also expressed interest in the competition. Last year, we came out on top, which makes me happy. Our members are well trained; their execution of each task was top-notch and their victory was well deserved.
Do you plan on sending a tank crew to NATO’s Strong Europe Tank Challenge?
We did talk about that, but we had to drop out because we could not meet some technical requirements for the competition.
How are the members of 2nd Mechanized Battalion “Pume” getting accustomed to Varaždin? Is the training range in the barracks in Našice in function?
After ten years of absence, the 2nd Mechanized Battalion “Pume” returned to the city where it was originally established. Most of its members hail from the north of Croatia, so you can only imagine how excited they are to return to the milieu that they had worked in ten years ago. Giant leaps have been made there in the furnishing of living and working accommodations. One building has been fully renovated, while the renovation of another building is in the final stages. Food can be served in the restaurant, while the work in the block for food preparation will have been completed by the end of the year. The completion of sports fields and drilling grounds as well as many other projects lie ahead of us. I must stress that a significant amount of work was done by the Brigade, with the assistance of the Support Command, whom I am grateful to. Our members prepared the ground for construction works, which were carried out by civil companies and the members of the Support Command. After the transfer of the 2nd Mechanized Battalion to Varaždin, the living and training capacities of the 1st Mechanized Battalion “Sokolovi” (Falcons) were expanded and the living and working conditions in Barracks “132nd Brigade of the Croatian Armed Forces” in Našice were improved. The sanitary conditions in that barracks will be enhanced in two phases. In the first phase, which will take place this year, a million and a half kuna will be invested into repairing roofs. Next year, further five to six million kuna will be invested so that the barracks can become functional. In the last two years, Training Range “Grbavica” has been adapted for the training of mechanized infantry. We carried out all demanding works with our own capacities. The proximity of the range and the configuration of its terrain are important for the training of the drivers of infantry fighting vehicles.
What infrastructure projects have been undertaken in Varaždin and other cities which the Guards Armoured Mechanized Brigade is deployed to? What infrastructure projects are coming up?
For many years, infrastructure was not being invested into because units were deployed differently than today. Therefore, a lot of money has to be invested into facilities that were being used, but not repaired. Some investments have already been made into Barracks “3rd Guards Brigade Kune” in Đakovo. Last year, the Croatian Armed Forces returned to Vukovar and one of our forces had the honour of being the first unit to return to Hero City. As a part of the preparations for the return of the Croatian Armed Forces to Vukovar, extensive infrastructure projects were undertaken in Barracks “204th Brigade of the Croatian Armed Forces” so as to create prerequisites for the life and work of the members of the Guards Armoured Mechanized Brigade in it. We have begun drafting the paperwork for the continuation of the construction works in Vukovar so that the entire Engineer Battalion could be transferred there.
Last year, the members of the Guards Armoured Mechanized Brigade cleaned up many facilities in Vukovar. How do you grade the collaboration with civilian authorities in Vukovar? Do you plan on continuing the collaboration this year, as well?
Together with the police, the Croatian Armed Forces gave a big contribution to the defence of that part of Croatia in the Homeland War. This heritage is the foundation for the development of relations with civilian institutions and the local population. We have helped Vukovar in the previous years. Last year, we started a big action of cleaning up objects that were torn down and damaged in the Homeland War. We are continuing the project with full speed. We have established collaboration with civilian authorities in all towns where our units are deployed and we shall continue to nurture those relationships. I am extremely honoured to be a commander of such a brigade and to serve the citizens of the Republic of Croatia with my men.
Are the living and working conditions in the Brigade improving? Do you plan on reorganizing the Brigade?
We work vigorously on improving the living and working conditions of our members in all barracks. I proudly stress that many necessary construction works are being conducted by the members of the Guards Armoured Mechanized Brigade with their own capacities. Take the car-park in Barracks “5th Guards Brigade Slavonski sokolovi” in Vinkovci and the construction works in barracks in Varaždin as an example. The barracks in Vinkovci and Bjelovar have been connected to the Croatian Armed Forces’ Unified Information System (UIS). The barracks in Našice is in the final stages of being connected to the UIS, while the barracks in Đakovo is to be connected to it during this year. In the barracks in Vinkovci, we have installed a cabling system which will support military decision-making processes and the execution of exercises on multiple locations simultaneously.
As far as the reorganization of the Brigade is concerned, we plan on correcting our structure when the time comes. We have made a draft of the new organizational structure in accordance with our commitments, tasks and capabilities and co-ordinated it with our superior command. One part of the organizational structure will be changed, while another part will be reduced. However, we shall retain a sufficient size for the execution of all tasks given to us.
Are there any problems with filling up vacancies? How do you evaluate young soldiers’ motivation?
We have no problems with filling up vacancies. We have to compete with civil institutions when attracting experts in specific professions, e.g. engineers, IT experts or doctors. When personal income is concerned, the army cannot meet their demands the way other institutions can. However, we find that one joins the military not for the money, but for all aspects that make this calling special. Soldiers must have a decent income in order to secure a normal living for themselves and their families. You would be surprised to learn how many young people join the Croatian Armed Forces with a great desire to work. Many members of my Brigade participated in exercise Velebit 18 at Training Range “Gašinci” and I was fascinated by the fact that not a single one of them was moody or doing their job against their will. Therefore, I am certain that the Croatian Armed Forces will not have problems with filling up vacancies in the future. Highly-motivated young enlisted soldiers, NCOs and officers join the Croatian Armed Forces, including the Guards Armoured Mechanized Brigade. They are motivated by the fact that belong to a Brigade the foundation of which are three legendary brigades that defended their country in the Homeland War: the 3rd Mechanized Guards Brigade Kune (Martens), the 5th Guards Brigade Sokolovi (Falcons) and the 7th Guards Brigade Pume (Pumas). I am pleased that we have so many members who parents participated in the Homeland War. Likewise, their motivation stems from the challenging, demanding training they are subjected to on a daily basis and from the participation in peace-keeping operations.
Interview by MARTINA BUTORAC
Photo by TOMISLAV BRANDT
Translation by IVA GUGO