Bosnia Bound

Dave Shinall

Half a world away from Western, 15 soldiers assigned to the U.S. Army’s 5th Corps are counting the days until 15 Western students in the National Guard replace them on NATO peace support duty in Bosnia and Herzegovina.

The mission the 15 students assume in late January will be that of helping Bosnian civil authorities honor the 1995 Dayton Peace Accords and keep ethnic Serbs, Croats and Muslims from killing each other by the thousands.

The students left Sunday to begin training for their NATO mission.

The girlfriends, wives, children and parents of those 15 students, and the students themselves, are already counting the days until they will be able to come home.

Among the students was Adam Smith, a sophomore from Jeffersonville, Ind.

“We’re not heroes,” Spc. Smith said. “We’re in it for the guy next to us. It’s a way of life. It’s our job. It’s what we do. Some people fix cars. We shoot big guns.”

Smith is qualified as an infantryman and tank crewman.

To his fiancee, Elizabeth Metcalf, a University of Louisville nursing student, Smith is a hero.

“I’m so proud of him,” she said. “This is what he wants to do, but he’s not doing this for himself. He’s doing it for the people back home. I couldn’t picture a better person doing it.”

His mother, Patti Smith, listened as Maj. Gen. D. Allen Youngman, Kentucky Adjutant General, spoke to his men and her son at a farewell ceremony Saturday.

“You’re going to some place that’s not especially safe, but that’s why you’re going,” Youngman said. “Watch each other’s backs. You’re not safe ’til you’re home.”

Patti Smith grew misty-eyed along with other national guard families. So did many of the nearly 500 well-wishers who filled one side of bleachers and most of the other side at Bowling Green Junior High School gymnasium.

“I had to readjust my heart and my mind, because my plan was that (Adam) was going to college for four years,” she said. “Right now, I think the best way to describe it is, I’m just pretty heavy-hearted, but I’m also very proud of him.”

Smith’s grandfather, Billy Rose, was among the first Marines to fight their way ashore on Okinawa in 1945. Rose sat near his grandson at a going-away party after the ceremony.

He had already given his grandson a hari-kari knife he brought back from the Pacific.

“I’m absolutely proud of him,” Rose said. “Of course, he thinks I hung the moon.”

Today, Smith’s unit is three days into what will be nearly a year away from home.

First comes six to 10 days of processing and training at the 8,500-acre Wendell Ford Training Center near Greenville.

From there, the Western students and 99 other Kentucky guardsmen deploy to Fort Riley, Kan., where 216 South Carolina National Guard troops will join them.

At Fort Riley, they will go through 10 to 12 weeks of classes in patrolling, observing and reporting, mine awareness and reacting to ambush. They will also review NATO rules of engagement, memorize key phrases in Serbo-Croatian, learn how to deal with the media, and learn the history and customs of the people they will protect.

Then, they will fly to Germany, said Lt. Col. Scott Campbell, Task Force Orphan commander.

At Hohenfels Training Area in Central Bavaria, 7th Army Training Command observer-controllers will put them through five weeks of situational training exercises and certify them for their mission, Campbell said.

At least six months’ patrolling the once heavily mined roads through battle-scarred hills and villages around the Bosnian city of Tusla will follow their certification as part of NATO Stabilization Force 13.

“It’s a good mission,” Youngman said. “It’s an opportunity to know you’re making a difference in a place that really needs help.”

The guardsmen will make their homeland a safer place by making the world a more stable place, Youngman told his troops and their families.

Morgantown junior Sgt. Todd Porter leaves behind a 4-month-old son and his wife.

“She’s taking it pretty hard, but she realizes that I’ve got to do what I’ve got to do,” he said. “She understands.”

Porter, a radio operator, has mixed feelings about falling a year behind in school during Task Force Orphan’s deployment.

“It’s not something I really wanted to do, but it’s something I’m willing to do. I think that it’ll be a good experience for me,” Porter said.

Leaving home is easier for Spc. Kenneth Simmons, a single sophomore from Bowling Green.

“I’m looking forward to it,” he said. “I mean, it’s a little hard separating from family and friends and all the people I love, but the mission and the job are what I signed up for, and I’m looking forward to it. I can’t wait to get in country and make a difference.”

Chaplain Maj. James Messer closed the farewell ceremony with a prayer for the guardsmen’s safe return.

Then, 100 red, white and blue balloons fell from a net above the gym floor. Family hugged their citizen-soldiers and talked about plans for the guardsmen’s last night at home.

The crowd drifted into the junior high cafeteria for a going-away party where 2nd District U.S. Rep. Ron Lewis talked with guardsmen and their families.

They ate hamburgers and chicken wings with state Sen. Brett Guthrie, Bowling Green Mayor Sandy Jones, City Commissioners Dan Hall and Jim Bullington, most of Warren County’s six magistrates and County Judge-Executive Mike Buchanon.

Reach Dave Shinall at [email protected]