Sarajevo tours cater to troops
Stars and Stripes June 26, 2003
MWR is touring Sarajevo again.
The Army’s Morale, Welfare and Recreation program in Bosnia, which had offered tours of the Bosnian capital for four years, suspended them for two months during Operation Iraqi Freedom. But in early May, MWR restarted the tours, and now hopes to run two a month.
Troops start their Sarajevo tour with a movie about the Bosnian war during the 2½-hour bus ride from Eagle Base. The two films most see are “No Man’s Land,” which earned Bosnian director Danis Tanovic an Oscar for the best foreign film in 2001, and “Welcome to Sarajevo,” a movie of the city in wartime as seen through the eyes of foreign journalists, one of them played by Woody Harrelson.
The tour’s first stop is at the airport tunnel museum. The tunnel dug under the airport strip was used as a lifeline between the city under siege and the outside world. Civilians, troops and supplies all went through it.
Concentrating mostly on places and events from just before and during the war — including areas that still show war damage — the tour also includes some sight-seeing at historic sites, such as the city’s churches and mosques.
Bascarsija, known to peacekeepers as the Turkish market, has shops selling handmade souvenirs, coppere coffee sets, copper plates with Sarajevo motifs, etched shell casings turned from tools of killing into art, hand-woven rugs, wooden jewelry boxes, copper, silver and gold jewelry. It is a good place for a shopping break.
The tour makes a stop at the Gavrilo Princip Bridge, named for the Bosnian Serb youth who assassinated Austrian Archduke Franz Ferdinand to protest the country’s status as an annexed region. It marked the beginning of World War I.
The Sarajevo trip is one of several tours MWR offers for professional orientation for peacekeepers, said MWR’s Marcus Wheeler, who organizes the excursions.
“We’re in line with the task force mission,” Wheeler said, adding that most soldiers return from the trips re-energized and with a deeper understanding of their mission.
“They can see what the Bosnian life is like. This is why we’re peacekeeping, so [Bosnians] can maintain their way of life.”
Several troops now at Eagle Base are eager to take the tour. Among them is Staff Sgt. Jason Durrett of Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 2nd Battalion, 123rd Armor Regiment, who wants to see sites from the 1984 Winter Olympics. He is equally interested in learning about the history of the city and scenes from the Bosnian war.
“I’m definitely gonna go on some of the day trips,” he said. “More than likely, I’ll never have another chance.”
Those interested in joining a tour should contact their personnel officer. If they are approved, their names will be added to a list and when the list reaches a sufficient number, MWR will arrange a tour.