Interview with General Mojsilović for Odbrana Magazine

Monday, 24.9.2018 | Interviews

In the first interview for the „Odbrana“ Magazine since the appointment to the position of the SAF Chief of the General Staff Lieutenant General Milan Mojsilović talks about his career, work priorities, return of the compulsory military service.

The Armed Forces has never lost its face

First of all, I intend to continue the processes of equipping, revitalization and modernization of the Army. I want that every segment has a capacity to conduct tasks fully and timely. Nevertheless, people will be a priority in all categories - from officers, NCOs to soldiers.

Just three hours after he threw his cap up in the air around noon on July 20, 1991 at the end of a four-year education at the Military Academy, then Lieutenant of the Armored Mechanized Unit Milan Mojsilović, as well as most colleagues from his class, packed the equipment and started fighting . That year, the acute phase of the disintegration of a large state to which YPA officers sworn began. It was necessary to overcome emotions, to become a professional and most importantly, to immediately apply what was only a theory at the Academy till then. The service of Lieutenant Mojsilović led him through the Civil War until May 19, 1992, when, by decision of the Government of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, he and all members of the army born in the territory of Serbia were withdrawn from Bosnia and Herzegovina.

The war experience helped Mojsilović to successfully perform command and teaching duties at the School Center of Armor Mechanized Units. Then, there was the time for advancement. Shortly after, in 1999, then Major Milan Mojsilović, Battalion Commander of the First Armored Brigade, was transferred to the Pristina Corps, where he served as the Chief of Operations Section of the 243rd Mechanized Brigade. After the NATO aggression, he continued his career in the same unit, on the position of the Chief of Staff, where he was the Acting Brigade Commander for a year and half. It was at that time that an anti-terrorist operation took place in the south of Serbia and the Mojsilović’s unit conducted a series of complex and dangerous tasks.

He commanded the 15th Armored Brigade from 2004 to 2006, after which he continued his career in Operational and Staff units of the Operational Forces Command, the Joint Operations Command, where he became its Deputy Commander in 2007. Only two years later he was promoted to the rank of Brigadier General. It was clear that Milan Mojsilović „was seen“ for the highest command duties in 2011, when he was appointed to the position of the Land Forces Commander. The Head of the Military Representative Office  in the Mission of the Republic of Serbia to NATO became in 2013. From 2017 to September 2018, he served as Assistant Minister for Defense Policy, when he was appointed to the position of the Chief of the General Staff by the Decree of the President of the Republic.

- A military career has its own course and there is no officer who has a full and final impact on it. - That is how the Chief of the General Staff of the Serbian Armed Forces, Lieutenant General Milan Mojsilović in the interview for the „Odbrana“ magazine commented his appointment to a new post, which is considered a crown of career in every army of the world. The armed forces that General Mojsilović wants is modernized and professional armed forces. „Professional in sense of its relations, and maybe fully combined. The Army that ensures that this state can devote itself to the economy, but also to all those social issues that make us better and stronger.”

You have come to the position of the first man of the Serbian Armed Forces after you have passed all the command duties, concluding with the duty of the Land Forces Commander and you represented us in Brussels. Recently, you have been leading a defense policy in the Ministry of Defense. How much will your previous experience help you on a new duty?

–It has been speculated a lot in public that I was in Brussels because I personally wanted or asked for it. No. I was sent there in the same way as I was sent to the Pristina Corps, and my relationship was, in a professional sense, the same. I am a soldier in the first place, I fulfill tasks, I work for the benefit of the Republic of Serbia, and I do not discuss the orders. The main task of the Head of the Military Representative Office in the Mission of the Republic of Serbia to NATO is the representation of the interests of the Ministry of Defense and the Serbian Armed Forces in the international organization that now consists of 29 countries. I had the opportunity to see how these things work in practice and, in direct contact with people I represented our interests within that organization. Namely, decisions are made by political consensus. When you understand it, only then you understand the place and role of the organization. I witnessed some turbulent moments, from disturbing relations with the Russian Federation, to the NATO intention to strengthen its eastern wing. If you add, conditionally speaking, the political segment involved in the decision-making process and use of force, and you participate in the process as an observer, you can offer your country timely information not only to military but also to state leadership.

What will be your work priority and what will be the first steps on your new duty?

–First of all, I intend to continue the processes of equipping, revitalization and modernization of the Army. I want that every segment has a capacity to conduct tasks fully and timely. Nevertheless, people will be a priority in all categories - from officers, NCOs to soldiers. There is room for us, in qualitative and quantitative terms, to clearly define and set realistic goals, because only reality leads to fulfillment. We have professional members with the capacity to be the bearers of priority tasks. On the other hand, I am encouraged by the fact that we enjoy the commitment of the state leaders, the President of the Republic, the Minister of Defense, to bring the military equipping to a certain level. Neutrality of the Republic of Serbia requires such a relation. Economic prosperity will also strengthen our positions, and we also need to contribute to it.

You have had the experience of working in an international environment. How do the officers of other countries assess the Serbian Armed Forces, and how do you see a Serbian soldier?

–The quality of the accomplished tasks of the Serbian Armed Forces members engaged in the international environment was evaluated by the United Nations representatives and the partner countries with which they directly performed the tasks exclusively with the highest marks. We monitor their work on a daily basis and I can say with satisfaction that the Serbian Armed Forces and the Republic of Serbia are proud of them, their military relation to the obligations and humanity they show during the engagement around the world. Our members in the world perform their duties honorably, honestly and responsibly, with maximum dedication, representing the Serbia Armed Forces in a manner that fits the Serbian soldier.

The Republic of Serbia is a military neutral country, which equally cooperates with the East and the West. You were educated in Russia and served in Brussels. How much will these experiences help you in the role of the first man of the Armed Forces?
–According to all analyzes and estimates, the position of the Republic of Serbia is such that neutrality can be sustained. But we have to work on it. How? We will strengthen the state capacities. One of the elements is the Serbian Army, as its armed force.

One of the current topics these days is the return of compulsory military service. Some countries have already taken such moves, and some have been considering them. What is your personal opinion about it?

–Ask the soldier if he likes to deal with the armed forces? The decisions that were taken on the suspension of the military service were directly related to a period of time when the circumstances and the determination of the Republic of Serbia were completely different. The circumstances today require changes. It is not a question of whether the Serbian Armed Forces should educate and bring up the youth. It's not primary. The ability of Serbian citizens to defend their homeland is important. It is known who can make a decision about it. My personal attitude is - for. The General Staff is analyzing in detail all aspects of the issue and the state leadership will have the necessary parameters for decision-making - how much it costs, what would cover, how long it would take ...

In the defence system, training is crucial. Do you see a room for improvement and what can soldiers and officers expect in the near future?

–Considering that the basic task of the Army in peacetime is training and improvement of operational capabilities, in the past years the Serbian Armed Forces has been working intensively on training of commands and quick response units in all three missions assigned. The training focus was on fully training commands and units that are part of the Response Force, and in the coming period, the focus will be on improving the training of the professional staff and part of the reserve force of the Main Defence Forces. We also plan to build a combat range in the urban environment in Kovin which will be intended for training of all units of the Serbian Armed Forces. The construction of new and upgrading of the existing tactical paths for individual training of soldiers and collective training of units to the platoon level is envisaged, and the dynamics of the implementation include the period from 2018 to 2021. Shooting ranges will be equipped with new sets of shooting equipment with radio-guidance for firing from small arms, tossing targets, and for raising heavy targets.

By developing modern simulators and trainers, we tend to reduce training costs, and to maintain the necessary quality of training for both individuals and units. 

We participate in exercises more frequently with members of other armies and these experiences have an invaluable value. Will we have more multinational exercises in the coming period?
– The level and number of multinational exercises where the SAF has participated last years ranges between 25 and 30 annually, and in principle it involves the participation of platoon to company-level units in tactical exercises abroad, or the participation of staff officers or observers in command and staff exercises.
Only in 2017, we carried out 230 different exercises of the battalion and higher units, as well as numerous exercises supported by computer simulations. By participating in 27 multinational exercises with more than 30 armies of the world, we have confirmed a high level of interoperability in the application of common procedures and standards and command and control systems, as well as common resources. More than 1,000 of our soldiers and officers are on the territory of Serbia and abroad, with colleagues from abroad. They have proved with their expertise and ability that we are open for cooperation and keeping up with all armies of the world.

We are witnessing the speeding up of modernization of weapons and procurement of war techniques from abroad. MiGs and helicopters have arrived; the Special Brigade is equipped with the latest weaponry. What else will be new in use of our military units?

– It is visible that we raise the capabilities of fight aviation and this is really good dynamics. Building the capabilities for a vertical maneuver in the Air Force is also reflected in the Land Forces units. It is visible that in the modernization of helicopter forces we have an eastern and western component - the "Airbus" H-145, Mi-17 and Mi-35. We expect the arrival and delivery of 30 Russian tanks of the modernized version of T-72, with thermo vision and other improvements. We expect the delivery of 30 modernized BRDM-2, with diesel engines. Of course, there is our defense industry - we are in the final stages of certain tests, so I think that we will soon be strengthened with new artillery means, armored and non-combat vehicles, all for the purpose of mobilizing and raising the capabilities of the Serbian Armed Forces for land maneuver.

Serbian soldiers, who under the blue beret represent our country in the world are praised everywhere as reliable and highly trained professionals. Do you expect us to be engaged in some new missions?

–It is true that the Serbian Armed Forces members are highly valued in all multinational operations and esteemed as trusted soldiers, often assigned to the most complex tasks in the most sensitive parts of the crisis regions. The Serbian soldier professionally performs any task that is set before him, regardless of whether he performs it in peacetime or war conditions, in his own country or abroad. It is also true that the Serbian Armed Forces members have an additional motive while engaged in a mission, as well as our national team competes at international competitions. This is, above all, the desire to present their country in the best possible way and to show their knowledge and military skills to members of the foreign armed forces.

I believe that it is true that the desire to prove and emphasize the purest military virtues comes from the historical heritage of our ancestors, and that all of this is somewhere implemented in the genes of the Serbian Armed Forces members. Currently, we have 278 members deployed abroad in accordance with the Annual Plan. I believe that there will be new missions, but we will make our decisions in accordance with the interests of our state and the Sermian Armed Forces.

Military sport is gaining its importance. Do we have prominent athletes among our members and are we ready to create conditions for top results because they are ambassadors of the Serbian Armed Forces in the world? 

– Military profession and sport are closely linked and it is somehow natural that we can seek and find among soldiers those who have the potential to achieve top results in sports. There are many prominent athletes in our Army and I would not single out anyone now. After all, every year, on the occasion of the Day of the Media Center „Odbrana“ you organize the selection of the best athlete and the best sports team of the Serbian Armed Forces, and you know how hard it is for anyone to single them out. The Republic of Serbia is a member of the International Military Sports Council (CISM), and our Delegation at CISM has realized more than 150 sports events from its program. Numerous medals that the Ministry of Defense and the Serbian Armed Forces members have won confirm their diplomatic activities, and indeed we can say that they are "ambassadors" of our country.

The President of the Republic and Supreme Commander of the Serbian Armed Forces, Aleksandar Vucic, said that one of the main tasks of the whole system, and especially you, is to provide greater influx of people to the Army. Do you already have some concrete ideas how to achieve this?

– It is natural that every human being is trying to create better living conditions for themselves. How happy I am that the economy is growing, I am aware that this also affects the manning of the Army. The labor market is becoming more competitive. The fact is that a positive economic trend reflects on us and I am encouraged by the fact that this is reflected on our salaries. Perhaps it is not as fast as most would expect, but after decades of stagnation, nothing can be done overnight. It is important that we get out of the negative spiral and that the standard improves. Recently we have discussed about this seriously and the conclusion is that the defence system as an employer must follow upward economic trends and remain competitive. Certainly, we should not forget that the military call is specific, challenging, and that the military education system can offer many things that you can not find in other places, including security of employment and some other benefits.

This year we celebrate 100 years since the end of the First World War, and the following year, 20 years since the NATO aggression. The Serbian Army, but also people have repeatedly shown through history that they are determined to fight for freedom. Is it even today the supreme value that moves us?

– Let us remember the events only a few years ago, when the state leaders were embarrassed of our war commanders, overnight they retired them without any explanation and sent them to the benches of cruel investigators. Let us remember the events when overnight, without any compensation, we fired hundreds of our civilian employees. This is an example of the contradiction of what we are now advocating and trying to draw conclusions from these events so as not to repeat such and similar mistakes again. Cherishing our tradition is something we respect and develop, and the best example is the project "Warrior", "Remembrance", as well as the participation of the Serbian Armed Forces members in filming events on Kosare and Pastrik, as well as other liberation wars Serbia unfortunately was forced to lead. In this way we send a strong message that the people who gave the most valuable things they had - their lives - will never be forgotten, that we are proud of their courage and humanity. They are the penitentiary of our army and the supreme value that has no price and which moves us.   

You participated in war during the NATO aggression in the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia and in the operations in the Ground Security Zone. What are your experiences?

– No one is happy about the war, but these are the experiences that make you competent at this work. I can not say that I was happy in that environment. As a soldier, I can not say that it was a strange to me. This is my job, we are preparing for it. If the war starts, and I pray to God that it never comes, no one should doubt the soldier, nor will one do his part of the job. It has been proven throughout history. The army has never lost its face. Many have lost their lives defending their homeland with dignity and honor. Is there a nobler sacrifice?

Aleksandar PETROVIĆ

Published in „Odbrana“ Magazine on September 21, 2018

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