United States Army
is a province of Yugoslavia. Yugoslavia was formed after World War
I from three very different ethnic groups. One is Serbian.
The Serbs are Orthodox and allied with Russia. The second group is
Croatian. Croats are mostly Catholic and allied with the west.
The third is Moslem, part Turk and part Islamic converts. They are
allied to other Islamic countries.
As Communism collapsed, the Serbs had the best organization in the power struggle. The ruthless Slobodan Milosevic seized power and began the brutal campaign known as ethnic cleansing. Serbs rounded up Moslem and Croat men of all ages down to preteens and killed many of them. The rest fled for their lives. The Serbs wanted to restore "Old Serbia", defeated by the Ottoman Turks in 1389 at the battle of Kosovo Polje. The 600 year old defeat became their rallying cry, and Milosevic began his pogrom at the Serb monument there. This means that the monument is now very unpopular with the returned Moslems. German guards protect it from those who wish to destroy and deface it. The only portions of the Serb script that remain are those out of reach of the prybar.
Other "monuments" litter the 600 year old battlefield. One is a monument to the cost of their recent communist past. It is a seriously polluting centralized power plant (shown on the left). An even more recent memorial is to the NATO effort against Slobodan Milosevic. It is a bombed out fuel facility that once was part of Milosevic's personal fortune.
As I took our soldiers to this desolate spot, I was happy to show them graphically how courage could be undone by fear and folly. We also visited several of the historic churches of Kosovo, Catholic and Orthodox. Click here for more.
| Europe rightly feared that the
violence would seriously escalate as the different ethnic groups called
for help from their allies. This and the impact of millions of refugees
led to a response from NATO. NATO forced the Serbs to stop and guaranteed
the peace so that the refugees could return home to rebuild. Unfortunately,
the violence had not yet ended.
Between the departure of the Serb mercenaries and the NATO forces, Moslems and Croats took their revenge. Serbs were now murdered, their homes and churches destroyed, and their families forced to flee. To save explosives, the destroyers often just turned on the gas in the home and fired in a tracer an hour later. The result is shown on the left.
There was much to rebuild. The houses were the "easy" part. In my time there, house after house was rebuilt as massive aid arrived from the rest of the world. Rebuilding employment is much more difficult. Old factories are environmental nightmares, and organized crime has a powerful hold on much of the available money.
| Chaplain teams were an important
part of the U.S. peacekeeping mission. A Chaplain team, called a
Unit ministry Team (UMT), consists of one chaplain and one chaplain assistant.
I was privileged to be surrounded by a fine group of men and women who
helped me by example and deed.
Chaplain teams help soldiers and officers maintain their moral compass bearings. They are a resource on local religious customs. They comfort soldiers when there is bad news at home, and they reach out to the civilians scarred by war. The three I knew best are in the picture below. SPC Ryan Hinton (left) kept me safe, while SSG Charles Farrell (middle) kept watch over Chaplain Major Leon Kircher (right), who was our fearless leader. They did an outstanding job.
| Even more important, though,
is that the people of Kosovo learn that working together is the only real
hope for the future of their children. NATO and the US are working
hard to make that possible.
One group that, to me, epitomized that effort were the men and women, "citizen soldiers" of Task Force Med Falcon. Most were members of the 399th Combat Support Hospital (Army Reserves) based in Taunton Massachusetts. That's fairly close to Providence Rhode Island, so they had some Rhode Islanders with them. I called them the "Bahstun" contingent though Providence is closer.
I speak highly of all of them, I greatly admired their skill and dedication. I got to know many of them, but four men who came to church and put up with my sermons, I became privileged to call "friend". They are below. Left to right they are: MAJ Bill Flanagan worked the pharmacy, MAJ Brian Campbell ran their medical missions to the poor, sick people of Kosovo. I first met him when I arrived at Fort Benning at midnight and he helped me find my billet. COLs Phil Susann and Ed Cyr worked in surgery. Most of their patients were the civilians of Kosovo. Their doors and hearts were open to anyone in need. When they were not working, which was seldom, they invited me to share a movie, some pretzels or one of COL Susann's Cuban cigars. They were a port in the storm for me.
COL Susann has since done a rotation in Afghanistan, and COL Cyr is on his way to Iraq with the 912th Forward Surgical Team. Pray for them.
I expected to be impressed by the officers and soldiers of the 3rd Infantry and 101st Airborne Divisions, and I was indeed impressed by their skill and determination to give peace a chance in Kosovo.
My personal mission, though, has become to spread the word about the men and women of the National Guard and Reserves who I also saw in action. They left home, family and job to serve their country. Their combination of military and civilian skills were important for achieving the final goal. They made a significant contribution.
They deserve our support. When regular Army soldiers leave for deployment, they know that their families have support systems back at their posts and bases. Such help is often far away for most Guard and Reserve families. They must depend on their communities to support their families and protect their jobs back home. They trust, and they answer America's call. I was privilegd to serve with them.