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.
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Thanks for sharing this, Peter. We are all humans first, and we are all in this together.
Eva Elvira Klonowski says
I got a link to your latest post from my friend Margy living in Hawaii. She wrote- “I just about jumped out of my skin when I read his post from today. It was about Bosnia.”
Well, I am born Polish, my home is Iceland but I live in Bosnia for exactly (almost as today) 20 years. My friend Margy is coming each year to Sarajevo since 2012 to voluntarily teach kids from the Sarajevo orphanage Bjelave. We met here in Sarajevo in autumn 2012 and become friends immediately.
I would not always agree with your text about situation in 2002 (it was more peacefull than now), glorifying the US soldiers (playig with kids -yes, but protecting Bosniaks…) and some history facts (Serbs forces started the war on April 6th,1992, after BiH was recognized by EU countries (on April 5th) and day after by the States.
On other hand I got enchanted by two of your photos. First by destroyed house which still stands in unchanged shape by the road to Bratunac (on a way to Potocari and Srebrenica). Actually it a crossroad where it stands. Another road lead to former US base, which was functioning in 1996.
Another photo is THE PHOTO for me. You took it in Potocari – a stone, tree and a group of people. The white marble stone (with inscription: Srebrenica 1995) was put there on July 11, 2001. It was supposed to mark a place where future cemetery of Srebrenica victims will be established. I was there that day, as every year since 2003 as well.However, after lot of dealing and welling with Serb Republic’s authorities/politicians the area of The Memorial Cemetery was established and the eastern border of it was agreed to be about 250 meters from the stone. So the stone was moved and now is right after in front of the entrance to the cemetery. But why I say THE PHOTO? because it shows that the stone was situated by the tree. All my friends, even those, who were ther do not remember it and suspect that I may do not remember the facts. I do because O was sitting close to the tree during the ceremony of placing the stone. Two weeks earlier I had broke badly my leg during the exhumations (I felt down from the ladder on a bottom of the cave from which we were exhuming bodies of killed in 1992 Bosniaks from Foca) and during the ceremony had to sit down on the ground, close to both the stone and the tree. So, thank you for the photo! Now I have the proof that I still remember things and the tree was there. It was gone soon after the stone was moved and the cemetery build.
Eva Elvira Klonowski says