In the Army

I wanted to make this post ever since I commented on Ed Piercy`s post about a ten days ago. But as some of you know, my state of mind was not set for making posts – I was mostly making ones that I could publish without much effort from my side.
I was drafted to join the army in 1988. when I was 19 years old. Back then, former Yugoslav army was organized by the concept of total national defence and every young man in the age of 18 (up to 30 as I remember) was supposed to spend one year in military service. The half of Yugoslav armed forces of 180000 members were conscripts. Since I finished high school for being an airplane mechanic, it was obvious that I will be in air force. After spending three months in one big recruit center in north of Serbia (a former air base) I was transfered to a biggest, most expensive and probably the strongest air base in Balkan peninsula, Zeljava Air Base, today in Croatian-Bosnian border. It was really impressive air base. Placed on the foot of Pljesevica mountain, it had several runways and tunnels drilled through mountain, where MIG-21 airplanes were hidden during night and when not on training flights. With large mess hall and underground water source, electricity generators and other facilities, a base could have 1000 men to survive for about a month without external intervention. As an airplane mechanic, my duty was to help professional officers in maintenance of aircrafts: pre-flight check, fuelling, changing tires but also to help arming it with rockets, bombs and ammunition, changing black boxes (which are in orange colour ๐Ÿ˜› ), washing the surface, etc.
In our society there was an important meaning of joining the army: if one was capable to be in the army, he was considered a grown up man, not a kid anymore. I know a lot of young people would laugh today but it was considered as appropriate transfer from teenager to adult person, capable to take life in his own hands. Also, as soldiers, we were respected; everyone wanted to talk to us, people were curious and usually shared their "soldier stories", comparing them with what we told them. Personally, I think that young people, especially in towns where big recruit centers were, hated us ๐Ÿ˜† In friday and saturday evenings it was impossible to find a free chair in caffes or restaurants – everything was occupied by soldiers. In recruit center where I was at the beginning, there were more than 8000 soldiers and in fridays a town was invaded by blue uniforms(air force, ground forces had olive green ones). But we needed to get back to barracks until 10 p.m. so locals were have to wait for that to get out and have fun ๐Ÿ˜†
At the end of 80s, what was once considered the forth strongest army in Europe (after United States, United Kingdom and former Soviet Union), had only some of its shine left. Except in some special forces units, most of the officers were not so interested in how their soldiers are doing: some of them just worked their 8 hours, thinking only about how to spend weekends or to have cheap summer holidays in military hotels along Adriatic coast. I knew that some of them would just run at a first sign of danger. We were taught to defend our country, to respect our people and to be example in society. I am sorry to say that some officers were nothing but a shame to country and army they presented. Once, during moral and political work with soldiers (when most of soldiers were not listening to him at all, just waiting for time to pass), one of the officers told us about "new political tendencies" that would, according to his opinion, destroy country and lead to national separation. At the end of his speach he asked if there were any questions. I raised my hand and after presenting myself, I asked him whether the army, as a leading and most powerful organisation in SFRY, would have enough strength to stop those tendencies. What a smart ass I was. He looked at me deep in the eyes and answered something that I could not understand at all; mostly some phrases that meant nothing. Later, I have been told that one military intelligence officer was interested about me :left:
Unfortunately, we both were right. Him in claiming that "new political tendencies" would destroy the country and me in claiming that army would not be able to stop that. I left air force in December 1989. and in less than two years everything has gone to hell.

me in summer of 1989. in front of an old Douglas DC-3 transport airplane left after Second World War

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116 Responses to In the Army

  1. BabyJay99 says:


  2. LorenzoCelsi says:

    I was in the army for one year too in 1992-93 and until 2005 Italy had the draft as well. In theory the italian army was focused on the task of stopping advancing Varsavia Pact aggressors coming from your country. :)Not that former Yugoslavia was considered a direct threat but it was thought it would be simply overrun by the soviets and their allies.The Italians had to stop the invaders long enough so the American would decide if it made sense to send reinforcments (anyway they still have major military bases in Italy) or to drop some nuke on the advancing communists (and of course on our heads as well).I was drafted in the mountain infantry, traditionally trained and placed exactly to fulfill the role of holding the positions in a difficult environment and to be annihilated in place when needed. Like the last time it was deployed in war was during the russian campaign and was left as rear guard of the german-italian retreat. The italian army wasn't actually well equipped back then, we had half equipment used for spare parts for the other half. Armed with WWII leftovers. Plus, the italian politics made the military not much appreciated.In recent times the whole model of the military has changed. The draft was abolished and the army reduced to smaller numbers. While all soldiers are volunteers, the equipment was improved (in the limit of Italian budget and tradition).Now the focus of the army is not much about "world war" but about "peace keeping" operations, usually very far from homeland. Italy is currently involved in major operations like Afghanistan but also in countless low-profile conflicts like Lebanon or Kosovo.BTW, Italy bombed Serbia with other NATO countries. I was against it.

  3. sanshan says:

    No smiling! ๐Ÿ˜‰

  4. KYren says:

    It's nice to read your blog, Darko. :up:

  5. rose-marie says:

    That is one cool photo, Darko :yes:Interesting post. I didn't know you were an airplane mechanic. And definitely not that military intelligence were after you! :insane:I visited a Yugoslavian military camp once… ๐Ÿ˜‰

  6. gdare says:


  7. gdare says:

    Ok, in Subotica. As you being a foreign citizen, may I ask you what you were doing there? :sherlock:

  8. rose-marie says:

    My guess is that the officer was out to draft you. Maybe you'd be a spy today!I don't know the name of it, but it was in Subotica. Pretty central, as I remember it.

  9. rose-marie says:

    Ah, so you know it? What kind of base is it?Well, basically I was there with my cousin who had a fling with a guy who was in the military at the time. They had some sort of open day which we were invited to. Pretty boring, if memory serves right… :p

  10. gdare says:

    San, I was a soldier, I wanted to be serious and responsible :lol:Kiran, thank you; I am sorry for not visiting your blog regularly, I promise I will change it :)Rose, that officer was not after me in way to harm me; I guess he was just interested in smart asses like me ๐Ÿ˜† One day I was passing by one unknown captain (or it was a major) from military intelligence, saluting him as I was supposed; as he saluted back, he asked me: Hello Darko, how are you doing? I was :insane: because I have never met him before :faint:Which base was that, Rose?

  11. gdare says:

    Lorenzo, I remember that some of our airplanes were flying along the Yugoslav-Italian border as a regular flying route. Once we were alarmed of one small military airplane coming from Italy and flying low over Slovenia. We sent two interceptors just to warn him and escort him back to Italy. Also, I think our planes did that too, I know for at least one occasion. I guess it was a part of the game ๐Ÿ˜†

  12. sanshan says:

    :whistle: Yes yes, serious and responsible. ๐Ÿ™„

  13. LorenzoCelsi says:

    I don't know but looking at east Europe from here when the Iron Curtain was still in place the worrying thing was to see all that resources invested in the military while common people lived by much lower standards compared to ours. I traveled across your country in the '80s and I remember seeing soldiers and weapons at every corner while in Italy you don't see them anywhere but the very close surroundings of military bases. In the same time I couldn't find a place to buy food or gas and I was given a whole bag of yugoslavian money for few italian and italian money back then was like toilet paper compared to german money for example.Putting things together you could not foresee a bright future for Yugoslavia, besides of course nobody thought of the mess that happened.Back to funny things, I guess everybody who served in the draft military has got countless funny episodes to tell. For example one day as corporal I was commanding an honor guard for a german general in visit and I gave the order to turn on the right and march away, while i turned and marched to the left. All this in front of a crowd of people. But as excuse I can say I had not slept the night before because I was on guard duty. :)The colonel commanding the place called me in his office after that and said some expletive words then sent me to wash dishes and wipe the floor for some days. :)One night I was patrolling around the perimeter of a munition depot and I sat down for a moment. I woke about 1 hour later (thanks to my alarm-emergency watch) just in time to run at the post for the change with the other soldiers. When I arrived there then I found I had left my belt with all the munitions, bayonet, etc somewhere in the grass. At night. And you know, grass is green and military stuff as well. Run back to find it…Because you can't just say "well I've lost it while I was sleeping on guard duty". :)I was also punished for driving a truck with my hat turned backwards, because a soldier under my responsibility said very bad words right under the window where the colonel was sleeping and some other stuff. ๐Ÿ™‚

  14. KYren says:

    Darko, you are welcome. ๐Ÿ™‚

  15. edwardpiercy says:

    Great post, Darko. Very much enjoyed reading about your experiences. And a handsome photo, too!I'm sure you will be hearing more about that from Angeliki! ๐Ÿ˜†

  16. Spaggyj says:

    I've got that song "in the navy" in my head now, except with the word "army" ๐Ÿ˜†

  17. gdare says:

    Adele,Originally posted by SittingFox:

    turned into a particularly ugly modern housing estate.

    Well, military facilities was made to have a purpose, to be solid and dependable; not to be beautiful :DEd, I don`t knbow this one ๐Ÿ˜€

  18. L2D2 says:

    Yes, Dare, I saved that picture to my PC to be added to the rather extensive collection of Dare pictures that I now have. That IS a good picture. Don't know what it is, but a guy in uniform just looks sexy. Thanks for sharing this. I was glad when the draft ended in the US before my son had to serve. He registered but actually was not considered for draft because he was the last Childers in his line and they didn't draft the only male left to carry on a name/line.

  19. SittingFox says:

    Yeah, but I wouldn't want to live in one! And the houses were ridiculously expensive, too! :faint:

  20. SittingFox says:

    Interesting to hear about your experiences in the army. We used to have an army base in the local town; as a child, I saw the soldiers jogging up the North Downs as part of their fitness training. The IRA bombed a local pub in the 1970s, presumably for that reason. The base was finally closed about ten years ago and turned into a particularly ugly modern housing estate.

  21. edwardpiercy says:

    Well here's the Gang of Four loving the Army.๐Ÿ™‚

  22. LorenzoCelsi says:

    Back then the medium punishments required a sort of "trial" where the commanding officer was the judge and the jury, then the soldier could nominate somebody as "lawyer". Since I was one of the older soldiers there, I had to be the "lawyer" several times. But, whatever I said, the "trial" ended always with a "guilty" verdict and 1 month of "prison".But 1 month of "prison" was usually transformed in 1 month of staying in the Army at the end of your draft period.Some soldiers there cumulated 3 or 4 months that way.Some made very stupid things like pissing from a window on the heads of bystanders or smoking marjuana while manning a big gun at the range.I got only some days of punishment during which I wasn't allowed to leave and I had to do some annoying duty like cleaning toilets.

  23. gdare says:

    Rose, I don`t know what kind of base is that, we had them in almost every bigger city. In some villages, too. But it was probably some kind of weapon show. You know, boy`s stuff, no wonder you were bored :PSan, you know me very well by now :happy:Lorenzo ๐Ÿ˜† I did some stupid things too, it was inevitabile. Once I covered the absence of one of soldier from my platoon, we escaped to a brief visit to his family because our comanding captain didn`t want to give himdays off. He was arrested by military police and my comrade corporal and me ended up in cleaning toilets with acid. We needed even to put masks on and a captain personally observed entire punishment :faint:Kimmie, the song I have in my head is You`re in the Army Now by Status Quo, for a whole day :lol:Ed, thanks; Angeliki and Linda will probably have a word about it :DKiran :up:

  24. gdare says:

    Adele, I guess it is because of the "solid" part :lol:Lorenzo, cleaning toilets is an universal punishment, I think every army in the world has it. Extending of draft period was usual for really serious crimes; one of the soldiers in my squad got drung and fought with a cab driver, breaking his jaw; Spent 3 months in prison and 3 more months in army digging rows mostly. Have heard for some guy caught with stolen ammunition, I think he spent 6 months in prison :left:Linda, thank you :oOriginally posted by L2D2:

    because he was the last Childers in his line and they didn't draft the only male left to carry on a name/line.

    Here, military authorities were not that considerate :left:

  25. Furie says:

    Holy crap, I've seen those planes before. You're at least twice the size you tell us you are. :yikes:.Unless the majority of your soldiers spent as often as possible being thrown out of my bars for starting fights or trying to sell drugs, then I think you had a better army. ๐Ÿ˜†

  26. Dacotah says:

    Good post Darko, nice photo. Ahh, military intelligence officer was interested in you. ๐Ÿ˜€

  27. gdare says:

    Lorenzo, serious crimes were handled by military court here too, there was no possibility for local commander to take care of it :left:Carol, thank you :)Mik, no I am not that tall :cry:Back in 80s it was not easy to find drugs. I`ve never heard of any from my platoon taking them. Only good old alcohol :drunk:

  28. LorenzoCelsi says:

    Actually the worst punishment for us was to be assigned to the kitchen to clean dishes and other stuff. It wasn't only annoying but also very hard job. You had to clean after the whole camp.Cleaning toilets was usually assigned to everybody in shifts. There was a corporal and two soldiers assigned to cleaning each barrack (including toilets) and to keep things and people in order for one day and one night.When there was few people because of traning, the same people were assigned to more services in the same time, like the corporal had to make the cleaning instead of the two (missing) soldiers or the same people had to clean more barracks and such.Cleaning toilets wasn't that bad actually. My method was to throw a bucket of water and clorine on the walls and then mock the floor. Easy and effective.I had some difficulty when we had water cut off for 2 weeks in summer and then I had to showel poop out of the toilets.Serious crimes were not handled by local commanders, they were taken to the military justice elsewhere. Some bad things happened indeed like some people got caught with drugs, a soldier was shot in a leg during training etc.

  29. LorenzoCelsi says:

    I had many soldiers smoking stuff instead. Some nights you saw like a fog in the bottom of the barrack where the "black sheep" usually gathered. And the obvious smell.We had several inspections by the military police, one night I woke up with a german shepherd licking my face while I was in my cot.I was worried when I was on guard duty because of having people alone somewhere while on drugs and armed. I was also worried of soldiers driving trucks (that was my original assignment), some had bloody eyes in the morning already.Fortunately no major accidents happened.The basic problem with soldiers was/is 19-20 years old kids are stupid. So they do the most stupid things when ever you give them the opportunity.That is the reason why traditionally in the mountain infantry each squad of those kids had an "old guy" like me as "leader" and living with them 24h/7 since the first day in boot camp.

  30. ellinidata says:

    hmmmmmmmmmmm shiny shoes,and shiny buttons, and I am sure the coin spinned on you bed if they flipped it! :lol:also cleaning the floor with a toothbrush and .. do I remind you of anything here?? ๐Ÿ˜† I love the picture! I know Linda saves all in her "friends" photo file , when she says she did it means we can all borrow it if you ever remove this post :pso, soon you will be an old bag too? :p Forty will feel OK ,and they will not re-deploy you due to your old age either !

  31. edwardpiercy says:

    :lol:Angeliki, think of all the "mopping" he had to endure. Poor guy. :pI was thinking of joining the Navy myself. I've always been interested in deep sea diving…

  32. ellinidata says:

    Originally posted by edwardpiercy:

    I was thinking of joining the Navy myself.

    Navy is much easier and safer than the marines! I grew up in an area btwn Turkey /Greece .. Military bases were everywhere and the port of Alexandoupolis had many visits from war ships. The air base at the International airport f Alexandroupolis had the most trained Air Force pilots in Greece…however, I never saw a uniform with so sensitive buttons as in you visual addition :p

  33. Stardancer says:

    Lots of the men in my family have served in the armed forces, Darko. My own son served, too. It is an honorable service.Good for you!:up::smile:

  34. ellinidata says:

    Originally posted by edwardpiercy:

    Maybe her shirt shrunk in the laundry?

    swimming in the sea with the boys :p

  35. edwardpiercy says:

    Rowing in Eden!Ah — the Sea!Might I but moorTonight — in thee!:D

  36. edwardpiercy says:

    You know I shouldn't have done that to Darko's nice biographical post. :doh:Maybe her shirt shrunk in the laundry?:p

  37. Dacotah says:


  38. gdare says:

    Lorenzo, luckily now it is changing this too and soon we will have only older professionals.Angeliki,Originally posted by ellinidata:

    also cleaning the floor with a toothbrush and ..

    and many other things :lol:Ed, I knew I should join navy :doh: :PStar, unfortunately, todays generations think different; being defeated side in wars reflected on young generations and most of them wanted to serve as civilians, if they have to serve at all; many of them avoided this; maybe it started to change though, two years ago a lot of young people wanted to serve in armed forces and some of them became professionals, despite low salaries and overall bad conditions in our armed forces; maybe next generations will have more pride and dignity than the ones that served as night watch in theatres :irked:Carol ๐Ÿ™‚

  39. edwardpiercy says:

    @ Lorenzo. :lol:Love that one.You know for a while that vid couldn't be found on youTube — must have been a copyright thing. In fact it was difficult to find it anywhere on the internet.

  40. studio41 says:

    Originally posted by edwardpiercy:

    And a handsome photo, too!

    agree w/ Ed, interesting read, Darko, thank you for sharing

  41. clean says:

    Always interesting posts, Darko! :up:

  42. gdare says:

    Lorenzo ๐Ÿ˜ฎ :insane:Jill, you are welcome :DDavid, thank you; have you been in armed forces?

  43. PainterWoman says:

    Interesting read and great photo of you Darko. You do look tall next to the plane. I seem to remember you saying you were 6 foot 3….or was it 4 or 5? Yes, that is tall.

  44. gdare says:

    Pam, thanks. Yes I am 6 foot 3 ๐Ÿ˜€

  45. ellinidata says:

    Originally posted by gdare:

    and many other things

    I was ๐Ÿ˜ฎ shy to mention ๐Ÿ˜† not that all do not use a toilet bowl! ๐Ÿ˜†

  46. gdare says:

    You were shy to mention mopping? ๐Ÿ™„

  47. ellinidata says:

    ๐Ÿ˜† but of course!:doh:

  48. gdare says:


  49. gdare says:


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