Ing., Lieutenant Colonel (ret.) Karel Kalista
“In 1980 we received a special order that our unit [the 9th Radio and Signal Company for Electronic Reconnaissance - ed.] - which was designated for surveying the activities of NATO units and signs of preparations for a surprise attack - was to prepare to reconnoitre the Polish army. We didn’t have any specialists on Polish. So our commander visited all the sections of the 4th Army and chose those soldiers who came from Karviná, Ostrava, and who spoke very good Polish. It was done in such a hurry that all background checks were skipped. The second problem was that we didn’t have any information on the organisation and placing of the Polish army, nor did we have any of the parameters of their arsenal or communication lines. Until then all such activities had been forbidden, if counter-intelligence had found out that someone was tracking the radio traffic of any army of the Warsaw Pact, he’d be in enormous trouble. So we knew nothing at all about the Poles, we went in pretty much blind. Our whole unit [except two shifts led by Karel Kalista, assigned to service the station on Mount Poledník - ed.] redeployed to the recon battalion in Vimperk, which underwent so-called teamwork training and which was reinforced by the Polish-speaking soldiers. Special Propaganda chased up some materials, flyers really, with information about the probable composition of the Polish army. The whole Warsaw Pact copied the Russians. So we had an idea where to find their directional antennas, where they’d have short-wave, VHF, which frequencies they’d use.”
“In the summer of 1968, my five-year-younger brother and I were spending out holidays at our grandma’s in Bezděkov near Klatovy. Suddenly, an UAZ drove up on to the village square, and a Soviet officer got out, spoke a while with the chairman of the local national committee, and then announced that the Soviet soldiers would take their water from the cowshed and that people shouldn’t go into the woods because the soldiers are camped there, and they practically don’t even know where they are. To avoid a disaster. My brother and I took no heed of that, and we set of mushroom picking. On our way back with our baskets full, we were suddenly surrounded by a group of raggedy soldiers. And they checked our baskets. They took us to the edge of the forest, where there was a heap of mushrooms about 2 by 2 by 1.5 to 2 metres high. They wanted us to sort the mushrooms into edible and inedible ones. When the soldiers saw which mushrooms we put on which pile, they joined in. And the whole heap disappeared very quickly. Then they cooked a soup out of the mushrooms, but they didn’t let us go until we ate at least a bowl of soup. We even let them give us an extra helping. When they saw nothing was wrong with us, they set at the soup themselves. It was obvious that what with their speedy deployment in Czechoslovakia, their supply chain was not working as it should and for at least a week they had to eat whatever they could get their hands on.”
“One time in winter I took a V3S [from the surveillance station on Mt Poledník - ed.] full of soldiers and crates of provisions. Suddenly we got stuck. The road wasn’t cleared properly, and our right wheel fell through into the ditch. I told the soldiers to get out. That wasn’t allowed, of course, to stop someone from fleeing to Germany, seeing that we were so close to the borders. Suddenly, I heard a rumbling as if an ironmonger’s was tumbling down the hill. An M113 armoured personnel carrier stopped at the border stone, some 80 metres away. A smiling African American watched us from the turret through binoculars. Then he called something into his microphone. The driver climbed out, took out some rope, tapped the hull with it and gesticulated that if I wanted to, he could pull me out. It would be easy for him. But I was afraid that if he hooked me up and pulled me, I wouldn’t be able to detach myself. It’s not possible when the rope’s taught. I gesticulated that I don’t need the help. Perhaps he would’ve helped me. He might’ve pulled me up on road, detached himself, and left. But he also could’ve towed me all the way to Munich, and that would’ve meant a boatload of trouble. We had to fell a few trees, wedge them under the wheels, and after several attempts we managed to back up on to the road.”
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When things get rough, you can tell a person’s true grit
Karel Kalista was born on 14 October 1954 in Pilsen, where he attended nine years of primary school and four years of grammar school from 1970 to 1974. In 1979 he graduated from electrical engineering at the Antonín Zápotocký Military Academy in Brno. In autumn and winter 1980 he served with the 9th Radio and Signal Company for Electronic Reconnaissance, which reconnoitred the Polish People’s Army. In 1984 he joined the 74th Special Radio Battalion in Horažďovice, and ten years later he switched to the Military Financial Office (currently called Finance Agency). In January 1997 he retired from the army at the rank of lieutenant colonel, and since February 1997 he has worked as a civilian employee of the Army of the Czech Republic.