Heroes in the Eyes of a Child

Years ago, a little boy looked at me and my coworkers like we were heroes. I don’t know if we were per say by definition, but I will never forget that little boy and I hope… he didn’t forget us.

It was 2002 and I was deployed to Bosnia. I was out on a mission with some engineer Soldiers who needed to visit a small village that was in need of a bridge. We drove around the area, checking out the river and possible locations to install a bridge. One area that seemed likely was on or near a villagers property. Naturally, we went over to discuss this with the owners.

As they were talking business, I was doing my work. I began documenting the scene, the effort. While doing this, I noticed this little boy. He was around six years old I guess. I will never forget the way he was looking at us Soldiers. As he stood there in his camouflage pants and his Mickey Mouse shirt, his look was of wonder. He was timid but yet eager to see us, watch us. He kept looking at us and I couldn’t help but think his eyes conveyed he was impressed. It touched my heart to the core. It also taught me a lesson: when I am in uniform, I represent more than just me. I AM America. I AM all Soldiers. Well, at least to those seeing us.

Over 13 years have passed and I still remember this boy. I look at the pictures now and think, he is a young man now. I wonder what the village is like now. I wonder if he still lives there, or visits. I wonder if he remembers us. And…I wonder if he still thinks we were there to help his country, his village.

I am not a political person and certainly won’t claim to understand all the factors involved in wars, but from my perspective, us Soldiers (both American and Nato allies) on the ground were there to help where we could. We wanted to help the people rebuild. We weren’t trying to be heroes, we just wanted to make a difference. I hope we did.

The Good Old Days of War

Most people don’t normally think of the word war and ‘good old days’ together. Nonetheless, this was my experience during my first deployment, and I wouldn’t change a thing.

First, let me explain a few things. I am not a historian or a politician. I don’t know all the events or the implications of things that happened outside of my vantage point, and I certainly am not saying the reasons that caused the war are to be celebrated. All I can tell you is my story, from my perspective, and how those experiences forever shaped who I am today.

It was 2002, and I was deployed to Bosnia, Tuzla Base to be specific. Being new to the Army Reserve, I was scared to deploy. And to make it worse, I was really ignorant about what was happening in the world. Having lived a sheltered American existence, I was essentially unfamiliar with the details and brutality of the Bosnian conflict. The years preceding my deployment were a blur of chaos. I was in a dying marriage where I filled my time working a full-time retail management job and completing my last year of college. On top of those demanding facts of life, I was also raising two toddlers. So, upon completing a bachelor’s degree, I guess I needed something to fill all that new free time??? The answer was to join the Army Reserve at 29 years old. (It made sense at the time, but that is another post.) Soon after completing my initial training, I deployed.

So the whirlwind that was my life was about to change. I was about to leave my kids and deploy to war I pretty much knew nothing about. It was terrifying at the time, but in hindsight, it was an amazing, life-changing event.

My main job there was to document what the Nato forces were doing. This allowed me to travel around and take pictures, write articles, shoot videos and create magazine layouts. Ultimately, it was the dream job I never knew I wanted. I met amazing people, both local citizens and Soldiers. I walked in cities that were devastated by hate, but yet saw people carrying on. I saw the natural beauty of the country through its wounds. I saw hope in the eyes of people who had endured the unimaginable. I witnessed Soldiers working side by side in effort to make a difference. I made friends for life.

My time there gave me so many memories (that will turn into several future posts I am sure), and it’s where I found myself again. I discovered my passion through telling others’ stories. I found a purpose in making each featured Soldier realize they were making a difference. I felt emptiness in hearing the horrors of war. I gained appreciation for life when I saw the struggles of another culture. I learned what true kindness felt like. Through it all, I had time to step back from the hectic pace of my life and really see what was important. I was able to evaluate what I was, what I wanted, and who I wanted to be. It was there on Tuzla base, I decided I wanted to live with passion. I didn’t want to just merely exist anymore, letting my days slip through my fingers. I wanted each day to count.

It took a number of years for this self discovery to really develop (and of course it is still in progress), but Bosnia is where it started. I think of how ironic it is that I had to go across the globe to find the true me. Perhaps opening my eyes beyond my own life was the awakening I needed. Either way, those ‘good old days’ of war gave me life.


 In response to the Daily Prompt ~ Salad Days.

The Bosnian Man Who Opened My Eyes

Bosnia was my first deployment, and I can’t lie, I was pretty nervous about it. I was new to the Army so I didn’t have a clear picture of what I would do, nor did I know anything about the country. As it turned out though, it was one of the more rewarding times in my life.

My main role on the deployment was to tell the Army’s story. I would travel around the country documenting what the American forces and their allies were doing in support of the peace-keeping mission. So I would take pictures, shoot videos and write articles about their missions. It was hard work, but so much fun and ultimately rewarding.

One of the first missions I covered was a medical mission. Basically, a team of soldiers would set up a clinic for the day to help villagers with their medical and dental needs. Typically, they would set up shop in the largest building they could find. Sometimes it was a home. Villagers would line up to receive care or just see what was going on. On this particular mission, a man came up to me while I was outside photographing the airmen guarding the “clinic.” The man, Hasanovic, was telling me about the mines and the war (through an interpreter). He wanted to take me to “where the bodies” were.

I wasn’t really sure what to do with this information or conversation…other than tell the Air Force security patrol who was with us. I did, and they joined Hasanovic and me in conversation. This was really my first experience with someone who had lived through the war. He told us about how he lost part of his leg from a mine explosion. He explained that there was a mass grave just on the other side of the hill. And, he pointed out the devastation in the village. It broke my heart to see the pain in his eyes. Though he masked it all with a smile and some alcohol, you could see war had taken its toll – not just on him but the entire village.

It really opened my eyes to how lucky I was. I had never had to worry about mines. I never lived in fear that my family would be killed. I was not haunted by memories of mass graves. I had a roof over my head and a bed to sleep in. Many of these villagers had dealt with horrible atrocities, and yet, they found a way to survive, smile and laugh. I found this ability and resilience inspiring, and promised myself to remember it when I started to complain.

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