I have firsthand experience in seeing US Soldiers protecting Muslims from Christians.
I had the chance and took the opportunity to visit our troops and was part of a weeklong trip to Bosnia. It was life-changing. This world is not a very happy place; our warrior Soldiers helped to bring peace and security to that corner of the world.
I saw firsthand the appreciation and gratitude the local Bosniaks shared with our Soldiers (we were protecting Muslims (Bosniaks) from Orthodox Christians (Serbs.))
Bosnia is a part of the Balkans; it was part of the Roman Empire. Throughout the centuries, the Balkans were primarily Orthodox Christian.
Then, in 1463 (30 years before Columbus crossed the Atlantic,) the Ottoman Empire (Muslims of the Islam faith) invaded and conquered the region. Over time, some Orthodox Christian converted to Muslim.
In 1918, Yugoslavia was formed, here. Following WWII, the area was under Tito’s rule. Tito rebuilt Yugoslavia as a Communist federation of six equal republics.
Tito died in 1980 and Yugoslavia started to break up – in part, growth in the Muslim population turned Bosnian Serbs (Christians) into a minority in a republic where they had been the largest group.
The collapse of Communism in 1990-91 led to civil war. In 1992 the United Nations recognized Bosnia. Then, later that year, Christina Serbian forces cross the river Drina and attacked the Muslims.
In July 1995, in Srebrenica (what the UN had determined a ‘safe area,’) the Bosnian Serb Army rounded up and mass-murdered more than 8,000-men and boys.
In December 1995, the Dayton Peace Agreement brought ‘peace’ to the region; this agreement effectively ended the war in Bosnia-Herzegovina and NATO forces were moved in to keep the peace. US and other forces were called to keep the peace.
Peacekeeping-missions for our military are not a new thing, including Hawaiʻi’s Soldiers from the 25th Infantry Division.
On October 1, 1941, the transition by the War Department in operations restructured the Hawaiian Division to form two divisions at Schofield: 24th Infantry Division and the 25th Infantry Division. (Over the following decades, the 24th ID was inactivated, reactivated and subsequently deactivated in October 2006. Schofield remains the home of the 25th ID.)
In 2002, Soldiers from the 25th joined militaries from other countries as part of the NATO-led Stabilization Force in Bosnia-Herzegovina (SFOR) to see compliance with the Dayton Peace Agreement. This was the first time the Tropic Lightning had served in Europe.
1,000 25th-Infantry Soldiers deployed to Bosnia-Herzegovina from April to September 2002; our Soldiers took part in mine clearing operations, reconstruction and the destruction of weapons turned in by civilians to help Bosnia-Herzegovina rebuild after a devastating civil war.
Our Soldiers repeatedly spoke of the importance of working with the Bosniak kids – given the diverse make up of the people of Hawai‘i and Soldiers of the 25th – the Soldiers hoped that the local population seeing Soldiers that are discernibly different working well together can serve as an example to the people of Bosnia who are generally similar.
Although there was ‘peace,’ we were reminded that this was not a safe place, every time we left the base. While Soldiers carried their weapons wherever they went (on and off base,) before we left the base, each Soldier loaded their weapon.
We had tactical support wherever we went (we each had an armed Soldier (our ‘Ranger Buddy’) with us at all times; when we travelled outside of the base, fully-armed Humvees were in front and rear of us; and helicopter support was on stand-by.)
I remember a visit we made to the middle of town (the 25th was stationed at Eagle Base in Tuzla;) the weekend evening entertainment was couples and families formed in a slow-paced walk and talk in a continuous circle around the main part of town.
We had plans to visit a local bazaar, but intelligence reports suggested we should not visit it. Instead we went to Sarajevo (site of the 1984 Olympic Games.)
It was site of the ‘Romeo and Juliet Bridge’ (Vrbanja bridge) – where snipers shot a couple (a Christian man and Muslim woman) trying to cross and escape from Sarajevo.
On a couple helicopter tours of the region, we were encouraged to look and compare ‘brown roofs’ and ‘red roofs.’
Typical construction has terra cotta-like roof materials. Older homes have weathered (brown) roofs; new construction/ reconstruction had red roofs. (The red roofed homes were houses owned by Bosniak Muslims that had been blown up in the war and later rebuilt.) (Brown and red roofed homes were next to each other.)
Unfortunately, a computer crash lost all my photos, but not the memories of Bosnia and our Soldiers helping Muslims there.