- The Washington Times - Monday, December 31, 2001

TUZLA, Bosnia-Herzegovina The Bosnian children, walking to school on a dreary November morning, are quick to smile and wave at the American soldiers rumbling by in humvees on the pockmarked roads in the hills above the town of Bonovica.
But the passing military convoy evokes a more stoic response from the grim Bosnian fathers who trudge along behind their youngsters, escorting them to school. Their jaws set and eyes narrowed, these men, survivors of more than a decade of civil war and genocide, watch the American-led peacekeeping forces with suspicion or outright hostility.
"The people here, they either love Americans, or as soon as they see you, they give you this ," said 1st Sgt. Raymond Arpin, drawing his forefinger in a slashing gesture across his throat.
Sgt. Arpin, a Maryland National Guardsman, is among the 3,200 U.S. peacekeepers serving a tour of duty in the multinational peacekeeping force that has maintained order in this war-torn country since 1995.
This article is the latest in an ongoing series in The Washington Times focusing on the six-month deployment of hundreds of Virginia, Maryland and District Guardsmen lawyers, truck drivers, pilots, spouses and parents who have put their civilian lives on hold for six months to serve in Bosnia.
Army Spc. Tabitha Salinas spent a good portion of last fall watching in delight as her beloved Baltimore Ravens manhandled the rest of the National Football League.
This fall, she watched in horror as war crimes investigators uncovered human bones at a newly discovered mass grave in the U.S.-controlled sector of Bosnia.
"That was just really sad," the 21-year-old single mother said. "I couldn't understand how someone could do that."
Since arriving with her fellow Guardsmen in late September, she said she has learned much about the religious bigotry and strife that led to the deaths in the 1990s of 200,000 Orthodox Christian Serbians, Catholic Croatians and Muslim Bosnians in a country about the size of West Virginia.
Spc. Salinas, stationed at Eagle Base, a U.S. encampment outside the Bosnian city of Tuzla, has spoken with villagers, teachers and community leaders about the mass killings. Many, she said, say they appreciate the peacekeepers. Others still harbor deep wounds, and they blame the ineptitude of the United Nations and the indecisiveness of the United States for the Serbian-led massacres in Muslim cities like Srebrenica.
"You can feel the hostility," Spc. Salinas said.
The Bosnians tell her that the war won't be over until Serbian war criminals such as former Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic and former Bosnian Serb military commander Gen. Ratko Mladic are brought to justice.
After seeing the killing fields, Spc. Salinas said she understands the desire for justice. "People need to be held accountable for what's happened here," she said.

Dangerous ground
Maj. Gen. H Steven Blum, commander of the U.S. sector that has its headquarters at Tuzla, is like Spc. Salinas a Baltimore native. And like Spc. Salinas and most other Americans in Bosnia, he is sickened by the legacy of murder and cruelty he has found in the central European country.
The general, speaking to a group of Maryland civic leaders who visited Eagle Base in November, recounted an Oct. 29 confrontation with two Bosnian Serb military leaders after American forces uncovered an illegal weapons cache near Han Pijesak, a settlement northeast of Sarajevo that was once Gen. Mladic's headquarters.
Inside the munitions dump, the Americans found six shoulder-fired surface-to-air missiles; two rocket-propelled grenade launchers; 14 rocket-propelled grenades; three mortars; four mortar rounds; 31 land mines; 55 hand-held grenades; three mine-clearing charges; two anti-tank rocket launchers; one heavy machine gun; and 4,239 rounds of small arms ammunition.
"There are more arms and ammunition in this country than I have seen anywhere else in the world," the general said.
The Serbs told Gen. Blum they had no knowledge of the weapons cache just as they repeatedly have denied knowledge of mass killings and continue to deny knowledge of the whereabouts of accused war criminals such as Mr. Karadzic and Gen. Mladic.
Gen. Blum, 55, acknowledges that the peacekeeping force he commands is not specifically charged with tracking down war criminals. But he sees that task as one that is integral to rebuilding the country he and his troops police. "This country will never heal until these people are brought to justice," he said.

Hitting close to home
Staff Sgt. Preston Curvey Jr., who is a D.C.-based long-haul trucker when he isn't soldiering, says the work he is doing in Bosnia patrolling the roads in and around Tuzla, clearing mines and helping to rebuild villages has given him a better understanding of the role of faith in his life.
"In America, I can without fear say that I am a Muslim. I wonder sometimes, if I had been here in 1995, would I have had the courage? I have a nephew that's Muslim. God knows I wouldn't want him to ever have to go through what's happened here," he said.
Sgt. Curvey, who was raised Baptist but converted to Islam more than a dozen years ago, said the soldiers in the multinational peacekeeping force can serve as role models for the Serbs, Croats and Muslims in Bosnia. The 45-year-old D.C. native notes that he eats in an Eagle Base mess hall with Russian paratroopers, Italian paramilitary police officers and engineers from the Spanish army.
"We are teaching them that we can get along," Sgt. Curvey said.
But there is also a time, Sgt. Curvey said, when America has to act in its own defense. A devout Muslim who prays daily, the sergeant said he believes the American war effort in Afghanistan is necessary and justified. "That turn-the-other-cheek stuff only works so long," he said.

Problem-solving
Capt. Kristine Coan, a Frederick High School math teacher in civilian life, has never tackled a logarithm more complicated than the problem she faces daily in Bosnia.
As a public affairs officer, part of her job is persuading the Croats, Serbs and Muslims in the villages around Tuzla to begin working to rebuild their communities.
It's happening, she said, but progress seems to come an inch at a time. Capt. Coan, decked out in green fatigues with a holstered handgun on her hip, said she misses her students in Frederick but she understands why her unit is needed in Bosnia.
"I have no doubt that if we were not here, the killings would start again," she said.

Wayne Newton rules
Sgt. Arpin, a Harford County, Md., native and 32-year veteran of the National Guard who had never been deployed before, said the six-month Bosnian assignment became very real on September 11, when training at Fort Dix in New Jersey came to a halt as the soldiers watched the attacks on Washington and New York.
"I think life as we Americans knew it ceased to exist that day," he said. "That changed everything."
Sgt. Arpin, 53, had just seen his newlywed daughter off on her honeymoon, and his thoughts that day were with her and his wife, Roberta. After several days of being stranded in Hawaii, he said, his daughter and new son-in-law were able to fly back home.
His wife, he said, is doing her part, too. Especially when it comes to the flagpole in front of his house.
Sgt. Arpin said he had called her to let her know that the flag they fly every day needed to drop to half-staff. Already taken care of, she told him. Then, a couple of weeks later, when he called to tell her the flag needed return to the top of the pole, she was ahead of him again, he said with a grin.
An unabashed family man, the sergeant said he misses Roberta and his daughter; his dogs, Mickey and Abby; a thick steak; and a cold beer.
"They try their best to make sure you eat good here, but they overcook everything to make sure nobody gets sick," he said. One of his first stops when he gets back to Baltimore, he said, will be a visit to Tio Pepe's, one of his favorite Mexican restaurants.
The Harford County heating and air-conditioning technician handles helicopter maintenance at Camp Commanche, just a couple of miles from Eagle Base, and he can't complain too much about missing family: his 22-year-old son, Raymond, who is also in the National Guard, is stationed at Commanche with him.
Having his son around helps Sgt. Arpin bridge the generation gap with the twenty-something soldiers at Camp Commanche.
"When the USO tour came through here, I got a picture of me standing next to Wayne Newton. Wayne Newton. Some of these guys are so young," he said with a big smile, "they couldn't understand how cool that was."

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