- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 3, 2000

Editor's note: Vincent duCellier sent this letter to his wife, Toby Jeanne duCellier from Kosovo where Mr. duCellier is currently serving with the American forces.
Hi Honey,
Missing you, and thinking lately about why the heck I'm here and you're way over there.
My tour here has been so far quite exciting and certainly will be the capstone of my law enforcement career. Sometimes it's been more than I bargained for, but I'm sure the best times will be the ones that stand out when I have finally returned home.
When I signed up for the mission, I thought that I might meet some new people, see a few new places, and generally do a lot of what I've been doing for the last 40 years (law enforcement). And, of course, we'd make a little money to boot. But I did not realize then that I would learn lessons to last a lifetime, or that this would be a profound experience with profound lessons to be learned.
Simply put, I will never be the same. Things once quite important to me now seem trivial, and I will never again complain about the food I eat or what creature comforts I have or don't have. And I will never again be less than God-Almighty thankful for having been born an American. Let me tell you about one small lesson that has been with me for a while now.
In early January, the electric power failed in Pristina. For nine days running, the temperature hovered around 27 degrees below zero. My house was heated by electricity, so, no electricity, no heat. I can't remember ever being that cold. I slept in an arctic sleeping bag, fully clothed, wearing a hat, and still I froze.
I was really angry. I was ready to chuck it all and come home. Poor me. On the 10th day I was at the office picking up mail. The medical assistant there came to the mailroom with a young man of 16, whose name I regret to say I have forgotten. The boy was totally paralyzed on the right side as the result of a beating by the Serbian police a year earlier, and had only limited use of his left side. He is Albanian. This was his crime, and so the Serbian police under Milosevic broke his neck.
There is a small gym with floor mats next to the mailroom. The doc put the boy on his back, on the mats. He told me he was giving him physical therapy and would now attempt to teach the boy how to roll over on his side. Roll over on his side? If the boy could just learn to do this, then he could be taught to sit up. Sit up? Doc sat on the floor next to him and demonstrated, as they had no common language. For an hour, the boy tried, over and over, to roll to his side. He was sweating, shaking, nearly crying with the effort. I did not see him succeed.
Walking back to the office, I thought about this. Here was a boy, a young man, who only wanted to roll over so he could possibly learn to sit up. And I was bitching because I was cold? Shut up, Vincent, and put another blanket on.
This week marks the start of my tenth month in Kosovo. I've spent all of it in jail first the Pristina Detention Center and now here at the Mitrovica Detention Center. There are 36 International Police Officers on my staff and 65 detainees in the jail. I've commanded a lot of different men and women during my career, but never such a diverse group as this one.
The detainees are mostly Serbians (a little over half) accused of various war crimes. Mass murder, genocide and arson top the list. They each profess to be innocent. The Roma here face similar charges, while the Albanians are charged with theft, weapons possession and attempted murder. When I arrived in Mitrovica, the Serbian prisoners were staging a hunger strike. That was finally ended when they were allowed to speak with the highest ranking UN official here. Recently, a Serbian woman tried to commit suicide in her cell, and nearly succeeded. I am trying to get her into a hospital for psychiatric treatment, but no one wants to take her.
Mitrovica, in the north of Kosovo, is a city split by the Ibar River. You have read about the famous bridge where the demonstrations (riots) take place. The north side of the river is home to the Serbs; the Albanians live in the south. Like oil and water, these people do not mix. The Serbs regard the police and United Nations staff people as the enemy who conquered them and who are now occupying their country. The Albanian people are thankful we are here, and little children greet you on the street and want to walk with you and hold your hand. I give the kids American flags that the Washington County American Legion provided me, and they carry them proudly.
For the Albanians, revenge is a major part of their creed and their hatred for Serbs is palpable. It is in their eyes, on their faces, in the very way they hold their bodies when in the same room with each other. The hate is pretty much a two-way street, but is more on the order of ultimate disdain for Albanians on the part of the Serbs.
America has its own deplorable history of disdain, dislike and hatred between the races, but it doesn't begin to reach to the depths of what I see here. There hatred here has been going on for centuries.
Those on both sides now face terrible pressures, especially the Serbs. They are under pressure from the United Nations the international community to change the way they have felt for generations and are expected to display peace and brotherhood, while at the same time Belgrade expects them to resist with everything they've got. Incredibly, the American officials who have visited here since the war continue to just smile and say, "Can't we all just get along?," as if this will do the trick.
For someone raised to believe that we are all born to a race and adopt a culture, I find this hatred deplorable. I have always tried to respect a person's race and understand his culture, and the utter lack of such understanding here baffles and saddens me.
We now have about 3,000 police officers deployed here from the International force. When I arrived there were less than 400 total, and about half of those were Americans. The U.S. contingent is the largest, with about 500 officers in the mission now. Though we were hired by DynCorp, we now fall under the operational control of the United Nations. At times, it is confusing and we have problems getting the directions/assistance/ supplies we need.
At the risk of sounding maudlin, I want to finish with this: We all miss our families and friends. We miss the things in America that we take for granted running water at the turn of a spigot (hot water at that).
Electricity at the flip of a switch, and all it brings us. Food of every kind, in abundance. Good roads and easy transportation. Safety in our homes and offices. No one shooting at us or throwing grenades into our buses.
I have found that some people from other countries think we are arrogant, that we do not appreciate all that we have in America. They resent our complaining and our habit of demanding what we want.
When I was last home and attended the meeting of the Smithsburg Lions Club, we sang, "Oh Beautiful, For Spacious Skies." Remember? "America, America, God shed his grace on thee." Sweetheart, He has.
All my love,

Vincent duCellier is retired from the Prince George's County Police Department where he served as a deputy chief. At the time of his deployment to Kosovo, he was the chief of police of Smithsburg, Md.

Copyright © 2019 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

The Washington Times Comment Policy

The Washington Times welcomes your comments on Spot.im, our third-party provider. Please read our Comment Policy before commenting.


Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide