Lieutenant Commander Jim McPherson is with the 1st Coast Guard District
from Boston, Massachusetts. He is currently serving as a public relations
officer with Operation Joint Endeavor as part of Task Force Eagle.
He is also a part time professor of Contemporary Public Relations
at Boston University.
January 26, 1996
I've been in Bosnia for 25 days now. Things have been going well. The work is very fascinating. On the 11th of January I was media escort for the Joint Military Committee (JMC) meeting in Doboj. These meetings are crucial to the success of the Dayton Accord since this is an opportunity for the Former Warring Factions (FWF) to meet and discuss their problems. Major General Nash (Task Force Eagle) usually attends the meetings with the Bosnians, Serbs, and Croats.
The local Bosnian media was excited to be invited because no Muslims have been allowed to visit Doboj in four years.
The bus driver and interpreter were both very nervous because we would have to cross Serb lines. During the two hour drive we got to see the miles and miles of trenches dug along the roads and into the mountains. We passed a remote checkpoint manned by the Swedish troops of the Nordic Battalion and taveled through a mountain tunnel that had been barracaded during the war.
When we entered Doboj our bus stopped at an intersection and some Serbian soldiers attempted to board the bus. They wanted to confiscate the cameras and film of the Bosnian media.
Being the senior person on board, I told the soldier that we were enroute to the JMC meeting and they could not enter the bus. These Serbs were just testing us I think. These were local Serbs from Doboj, however and the overall Serbian forces have been extremely cooperative. The local Serbs were the exception as every town has it's bullies. The peace pocess has been going very well.
We are looking forward to showing the the Serbs, Muslims, and Croats that IFOR is committed to evenhandedness. We all want peace and we are not taking sides. So far, everything has been peacefull.
Personally, everything is going well with the exception of my laundry. Eleven days ago I sent all my uniforms to the local Bosnian landry. That laundry contract was cancelled and all my uniforms are missing. The base commander has sent some soldiers to the laundry downtown to get my stuff. (I believe it's being held hostage!)
President Clinton visited Tuzla last Saturday. I had the chance to meet Dan Rather of CBS and Cristiane Ammanpour of CNN.
The Russian forces have started to land. I've met several and they seem just as interested about us as we do about them. They certainly don't fit the "Evil Empire" image.
To sum it up, I'm enjoying the opportunity to be involved in a historic NATO mission. My part is extremely small, but meeting the Serbs, Croats, and Muslims has convinced me that IFOR is the best chance for a lasting peace. The children who gather at the front gate really drive home the fact that this mission is very important.
I will write again soon,
Jim McPherson, LCDR, USCG.
Things are going very well here in Tuzla, Bosnia. The weather certainly makes things interesting. The freezing/thawing routine has turned every soft surface to a frigid ankle deep, chocolate cake mix, thick, Balkan mud!!
I just returned yesterday from the Sava River in Croatia. I spent 5 days there working with the media covering the completion of the "ribbon bridge". It was extremely interesting. I'm in the ARMY NOW and I'm trying to be all I can be. It certainly is different from the Coast Guard. I thought the Coast Guard was bad with their acronyms but the Army clearly has clearly established a special language that takes a while to get used to. In fact, one major told me he could not assist me because he was "Task Saturated". They throw the terms out so much that even when I ask people who should know what "TACCLE, HHC, and TOC FWD," mean, they don't know.
I was selected to assist the media on the trip from Tuzla to the Sava river. Many of the local Bosnian media were on the bus and I'll never forget the expression on their faces when we crossed the first Serbian checkpoint into Serb-held territory. The local Tuzla media are all Muslims and this was the first time in four years they crossed into Serb territory. One reporter asked me if I would guarantee his safety. "Of course" I said, "that was our job."
Our bus was surrounded by four US HUMMVEEs and all us soldiers are required to wear helmets, kevlar vests and sidearms or rifles. One reporter on the bus showed us where he was shot two years prior near the zone of separation. The reporters were all very nervous because the Serbs were still carrying weapons. A few months before the Dayton Accord the reporters said they would have been kidnapped or killed if they entered Serb territory.
We passed many Serb tanks (six). Village after village was totally burned out. The roads are marked with land mine signs. Approximately 6 million mines have been planted by all sides. Unfortunately, one U.S. has already been injured by a mine and everyone knows that unfortunately he will not be the last.
To be honest, I am much more scared by the crazy United Nations drivers on Tuzla air base. The roads are always slick from mud or snow but they drive like they are trying to beat the rush hour on the Mass Pike.
Living conditions are sparse. I've only taken two showers because of the lack of potable water. MRE's (meals-ready-to-eat) are rally not that bad. However, it is scary to see that package date is 1989!
I hope you get this e-mail. I will try to send as often as possible.
Jim McPherson, LCDR, USCG.