I tell people that, once upon a time, I had moved to and lived in Bosnia and Herzegovina. That I had gone there not all that long after the signing of the Dayton Peace Accords, and that I had spent a winter there.
And that it had been cold. Really cold.
When I arrived, the fighting had only just stopped. The three sides were not getting along all that well, but they were not actively killing each other, either. The Accords were holding, the inspections were happening, and the search was on for the PIFWCs – persons indicted for war crimes. We were either making peace, or enforcing a peace to which the parties had all agreed – that was a matter of perspective.
But it was cold. Yes, the countryside was beautiful. It truly was a great opportunity – I have some great stories from my great opportunities there, to include one about a minefield.
But, my god. It was cold. We slept in canvas tents. On cots. In Army-issued sleeping bags that were clearly made by the lowest bidders.
The heating solution was to add a kerosene heater – two, if it was a big tent – but this required the tent occupants to take turns, most often in 2 hour shifts, staying awake with the heater, because, you know – KEROSENE. The kerosene heaters tended to explode and kill everyone in their sleep.
This was in the days before the Army adopted Gore-Tex and other modern amenities. Our sleeping bags were crap. I remember our training, about how we were suppose to sleep in a t-shirt and shorts, maybe socks, so that there was plenty of airflow to let the sleeping bag work “as designed” – especially in the extreme cold.
But it wasn’t even funny. Doing that was a complete FAIL and put us at such a risk of actually freezing. We slept wearing damn near everything we owned, that would fit inside the bag. It was the hot topic, always – figuring out the right combination of items to wear, to best stay warm.
And days were often only slightly better. That HMMWV in the photo above? Its heater did not work for the longest time. The Motor Pool crew chased the ghosts in that beast for what seemed like an eternity, and I was stuck taking that thing out of the road, day after day – and freezing.
Hitler had a plan, and that included rolling right through Bosnia and Herzegovina, right in the middle of winter, and right on into the Soviet Union. Bosnia and Herzegovina had other plans. The Bosnia and Herzegovina winter stopped the Nazi war machine.
Having lived there, I totally understand that.
From those extremes, to my summers in the Middle East, I sometimes forget that, yeah, I’ve had this range of experiences that are outside the norm, thanks to my Army time. Some, I would gladly do again. Others, I’ll just look at the photos and go make some more coffee.