Gingrich tours Bosnia, visits troops
CAMP McGOVERN, Bosnia and Herzegovina — House Speaker Newt Gingrich offered no insight into the U.S. military future in Bosnia, but the Georgia Republican provided plenty of visibility Sunday to soldiers during a one-day whirlwind tour of the region.
Gingrich and six fellow members of the House of Representatives, including House Minority Leader Richard Gephardt, D-Mo., flew from Rome to Bosnia and Herzegovina for a firsthand assessment of the state of U.S. troops and the Bosnian people. Information garnered will be used by Gingrich for policy decisions concerning Bosnia, according to his press spokeswoman.
After receiving a mission briefing at Eagle Base in Tuzla, the Gingrich party was transported by six UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters to Camp McGovern, located near the volatile city of Brcko. But his visit there appeared strictly informal as Gingrich began mingling with soldiers as soon as he entered the camp. Gingrich's father was a career Army officer, and the congressman is an "Army brat" who tries to take advantage of every opportunity to spend time with soldiers, the spokeswoman said.
Dressed in a plaid shirt and khaki pants, Gingrich shook hands with the first soldier he met during a walking tour of the camp that included stops at the video store, food court, laundry drop-off point and a quick visit inside the living quarters of Spec. David Knight from the 3rd Squadron, 2nd Armored Cavalry Regiment from Fort Polk, La. The 21-year-old mortar gunner described his encounter with Gingrich as "pretty cool" but showed obvious relief when his moment in the sun was over and the congressional party headed toward the dining facility.
There, Gingrich and fellow representatives dined on prime rib, baked ham, Cornish hen and the local staple cevapi — a sausage in a roll — with soldiers from their home states.
A dining hall supervisor keeping an attentive eye on the luncheon assured that the fancy spread was standard fare each Sunday as a means of helping boost morale. Perhaps in keeping with efforts to maintain that status quo, Gingrich took his place in line with others on the buffet line.
But for Staff Sgt. Lynwood Ealey, sitting beside the speaker of the house made for anything but a routine day. Ealey, a 30-year-old from Albany, Ga., said it not only was an honor to dine with Gingrich but also nice to sit down with a fellow native and talk about life back home.
"It's good to know these guys take the time to get a (handle on) what we do," Ealey said afterward.
Spec. Ryan Hinson agreed. The Smyrna, Ga., native celebrated his 23rd birthday by dining across the table from Gingrich. He described lunch with him as a "nice experience for a soldier over here."
After lunch, Gingrich and his fellow politicians posed for photos with enthusiastic soldiers and then made a brief statement to reporters in which Gingrich praised the military for its role in establishing peace but pointed out that a final settlement requires involvement of the local Bosnians.
The entourage then boarded buses for a tour of Brcko. Negotiators of the 1995 Dayton peace accord could not decide whether that strategic town should stay with the Bosnian Serbs, who seized it in May 1992, or go to the Muslim-Croatian federation. Brcko straddles the narrow corridor connecting Serb holdings to the east and west, and if it goes to the federation, it could slice the Serbs' territories in half. Arbitrators are to decide which side will control Brcko later this year.
After their tour, the group was scheduled to visit Sarajevo and then fly back to Rome before returning to the United States today. During his trip, which also included stops in Israel and Jordan, Gingrich met with the pope Saturday and laid a wreath Friday at the Sicily-Rome American Cemetery in Netuno near Rome.