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LUKAVAC, Bosnia and Herzegovina — At a base camp the military calls Punxsutawney, the only shadows worth noting on a bright and sunny Groundhog Day were those cast by belching smokestacks.

The legendary Punxsutawney Phil, or, more likely, a distant relative of that same furry persuasion, knew better than to surface in this camp Friday. One might say old Phil was away without any leave of his senses.

"Did Phil come out?" asked Lt. Col. Rich Crocker of the Army Corps of Engineers.

Had Phil popped his head out for a look around this Punxsutawney, located in the town of Lukavac west of Tuzla, he would have seen an industrial site made miserable by a coke plant. The coal processing plant is a hideous place where the grime complements air that one dare not inhale too deeply.

While military planners gave this site the nickname Punxsutawney, many who reside here call it Gotham City. Others refer to it in far less flattering terms.

'It's the worst damn place you can ever send a soldier," said one GI who wouldn't give his name.

Others spoke of rats.

"Shadows from the rats would cover the whole city," said Pfc. Tiara Adams without a hint of despair. "They're big."

Adams, a supply clerk from Dexheim, Germany, likes that her base camp is known as Punxsutawney because of the Pennsylvania town's association with Groundhog Day. However, she didn't know why military planners decided to name it as such.

Spec. Brian Yarborough, who, like Adams, is with the 123rd Main Support Bn, had a theory.

Many of the servicemembers here have noted that life in Bosnia resembles the Bill Murray movie "Groundhog Day," where each day is just like the last. President Clinton even borrowed that analogy during his speech to troops in Bosnia last month.

"Days begin to blend together around here," said Yarborough, a field electrical repairman.

Asked whether he had seen Punxsutawney Phil, the imperfect prognosticator of winter's life span, Yarborough looked around for a brief moment.

"I haven't seen any critters, actually," he said.

A few buildings over, Maj. Bernd Pielmeier stood outside atop a flight of stairs. In front of him stood a wooden directional sign with such destinations as Baumholder, Germany, and Miami. At the top of the post was Punxsutawney.

Pielmeier, a liaison officer with the 18th Military Police Brigade out of Mannheim, Germany, said this base camp holds no resemblance to Punxsutawney. Instead, he refers to it as Gotham City.

Nonetheless, Pielmeier burrowed into the spirit of the day. "Every day is Groundhog Day," Pielmeier said, "but we haven't seen any groundhogs. We don't know if they have groundhogs here."


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