MOSTAR BASE, BUNIA, BOSNIA-HERCEGOVINA
Otsego was going through the checklist:
- Change locks
- Seize keys from any non-authorized personnel.
- Ban unauthorized entry of the building by foreign nationals.
- Tear apart all computers, check for surveillance devices, rebuild, re-image hard drives, run virus scans.
- Get local, private non-military internet connection for the Unclass computers.
- Change the code for the computer room.
- Inspect and clean every room, wash every piece of linen.
- Get all facility appliances fixed including the 60kw generator.
- Get food supplies and sundries to make the building sustainable and suitable for hosting small units.
- Do a full inventory on all equipment and supplies.
OTSEGO is seated on a couch in front of a TV in the ‘Bird Sanctuary’. MacTaggerty is seated to his left, drinking a Bailey’s.
OTSEGO: Jeepers Cripus Hathaway, another freakin war and once again I am sitting on a couch watching it on TV. Thank god my dad isn’t alive to see what a sissy-Mary I have become. I missed Desert Storm, I missed Somalia, I missed Haiti. Now Iraq, you know this war will be over in a month and I’ll never get there.
MacTAGGERTY: Eh, Otsego, this is a good mission here, eh? You always think you could be with a better organeyezation in a better war. It’s aboot time ye just did your mission here and did it well and enjoy the time in Bosnia eh?
OTSEGO: You know I watched them go. We were in a quad of barracks at Ft. Riley. One side was going to Afghan, another to Iraq, another to Kosovo and us to Bosnia. I envied everyone except us. I have been in the Army 22 years and I keep looking for that one great moment-what I call ‘great days’ and I never seem to find it.
MacTAGGERTY: You know what my great days are eh? The days I spend with my wife and daughter. If you keep looking for great days like you are, you’ll never find them where you’re looking.
OTSEGO: ‘Great days’ has a definition. ‘Great days’ are when you are involved in something epic. You don’t realize it at the time, but later in life you realize that it is epic.
MacTAGGERTY: Right. My point exactly eh?
OTSEGO: I need you to join me for a mission.
MacTAGGERTY: Sounds good eh, what are we doing there my American Buddy?
OTSEGO: We have to go into East Mostar.
MacTAGGERTY: Oh by the way buddy, there is going to be a team from Banja Luka here tomorrow to put up a flagpole for the Canadian flag eh?
FLASHBACK TO JUNCTION CITY, KANSAS JANUARY 2003
A couple is alone in a motel room. They aren’t young, they aren’t old. The wife has brought a bottle of wine. They sit together on the bed.
MRS OTSEGO: I hate this
OTSEGO: I hate it too. I’m going to miss you. It’s just now hitting me. I won’t see you again for a long, long time.
MRS OTSEGO: First we lose the baby, now I’m afraid I’m going to lose you too. And what will become of me? What will I do?
OTSEGO: You can’t think like that. I’m shifty. For some reason, the fight never comes to me. It’s like I’m some kind of a peace spirit. I don’t understand it. Anything that would get me a combat patch or a medal will never ever come to me. The Army gods won’t let it happend.
MRS OTSEGO: So you say.
OTSEGO: I feel it all, we’ve been together so long and it seems like we’ve done everything for nothing. Makes you wonder what we were doing, where we were going, why we didn’t try to have kids earlier, why we didn’t start our lives earlier, the mistakes we made, the bad jobs and so on.
MRS OTSEGO: It’s all jammed together now. I just don’t want you to go. I wish you had been found not physically fit. I wish you had just gotten out when you hit your twenty. This is terrible.
OTSEGO: I had so many chances to spend more time with you and now it’s too late. I wish I had all the time back I spent doing other things. (Pulling wife close) Let’s go up to Custer Hill so you can meet the LNOs. They are a very odd bunch.
The two slowly sip the champagne and hold each other. Otsego is looking at the wall, his face is dark and full of regret.
They get dressed and go outside to a rental van, then they drive towards Ft. Riley.
DAY ONE AT THE (STARI MOST) OLD BRIDGE
The Canadian and the American climb into a silver-gray Mitsubishi Pajero with SFOR markings on the side in both Latin and Cyrillic script. The Pajero heads out of the gate past the Moroccan guards, past the shitty CD stand/whorehouse, past the landmine-seeking sheep and their erstwhile shepherd. They cross the tracks where the silly, little daily passenger train comes by.
The Podvelez Polje and Mt. Velez rose majestically on their right, still capped with a little hat of winter snow. The Pajero rolled out on to Route ‘Pac-Man’. They had a CD player with a bizarre jerry-rigged cassette shaped insert. The player blasted Weather Report’s ‘Tribute to Birdland’.
They rolled into Mostar. Local Croat gangsters had been blowing up each others cars. Turkish construction crews were rebuilding the Stari Most ‘Old Bridge’ The bridge was a symbol of the Ottoman Empire. It was beautiful, ordered built in about 1565 by the Sultan. To Croats and Serbs it was a symbol of oppression and during the heat of the War, the Croats blew up the bridge with tank rounds.
As they drove down the road, they could see the tell-tale splash marks that shells had made in the concrete roads. Most of the buildings were utterly destroyed. Pockmarked with tens of thousand of rounds.
As they parked, Otsego noticed some gypsy boys. He knew that giving gypsies coins brought good luck and in the land of landmines you needed all the luck you could get.
OTSEGO: Hej prijatelj , dođi ovamo ! Mogu li gledati naših vozila za nas ? 5km svaki sada , 5km svaki kada se vratimo . Bez oštećenja , niko ga dira , bez bombi . Dogovoreno?
GYPSY: (In perfect English) No problem, Major, we’ve got it covered. We can do this every time you come in!
MacTAGGERTY: You speak this shitty pig-Latin? Figures only gypsies can speak English. They speak whatever gibberish will make them some money, eh?
OTSEGO: Yes, I’ve been studying for a while. Gypsies bring good luck.
They walk through the town. On the side of a building was anti-Bush propaganda graffiti.
They crossed the rickety temporary bridge into the old side of town. They walked through the bazaar. Otsego was looking to buy collectible coins and banknotes. There were a few tourists and a few Spanish and French peacekeepers looking to buy souvenirs.
They walked into the Muslim side of town. It was destroyed like the other side. It was near deserted. There were sad posters with green crescents, with pictures of missing people, lost during the war. Somebodies’ daughter or son. Who knew.
Suddenly, a strange looking you man appeared. He was skinny, dressed like a European punk rocker. He had spiked dyed-blonde hair.
He began to dance one one foot with his palms raised. He began to dance and chant homo-erotically.
TECBE BOY: “Takbir, Takbir! Allahu Akbar! Amerikanacz! You must recite! You must recite!”
The local Bosnians sitting on the rubble of a bombed out building shook their heads.
MacTAGGERTY: Drawing pistol. “May I shoot him?”
OTSEGO: “NO! You can’t shoot him, we are NATO Peacekeepers. Peace…keepers.
The TECBE boy dances for a minute and then he runs away.
MacTAGGERTY: “What an a-hole, eh? They hate you Americans. Everyone hates you except us Canucks. The lonely Lynx next door to the giant Eagle.”
They walk down the street, then they loop back to the bridge. They cross the temporary bridge. They go into a memorabilia shop located in the ground floor of a re-built mosque. The owner looks at their uniforms. He smiles when he sees the Canadian and American flag patches.
THE COIN SHOP IN THE BASE OF THE MOSQUE
SHOPKEEPER: “Dobar Dan! Dobro Dosli, Jedan drugi!”
Otsego leans over a shelf and looks at the coins. It’s an amazing array.
OTSEGO: “Probably from god knows how many looted homes, Mac?”
SHOPKEEPER: “Volite li prikupljanje novca? Odvest ću te sve što vas zanima.”
OTSEGO: “Sure, Daj mi Tito srebrnjakom. pravo srebro ne seri metala.”
MacTAGGERTY: “What are you saying, in that gibberish?”
OTSEGO: “I asked him for a silver Tito coin. We will see if he can deliver.”
ONE WEEK LATER – THE PATH AROUND MNBSE Mostar-Orijes Base
Otsego was running. He hated running, but even in the operational environment they had to take an APFT. Colonel Jones would come down and have him do the test. Working out, pushups, situps were all good. It was always the two mile run. The older he got, the harder it got. He noticed a weird Serbian guy whose house was almost surrounded by the wire, well it wasn’t a house, it looked like he was pouring a concrete foundation for a house – all by himself. The man looked up at Otsego and grunted at him. Otsego grunted back. Everyone in this country was always unhappy. And how the hell do you build a house all by yourself. He checked his time, he only knew how far he ran by his pace-count. Since he first paced it off over 20 years ago it was always the same: 53 paces one the left foot, then 100 count and so on until he counted 1,760 yards. It was still kind of cold. He was joined in his run by a Moroccan soldier who didn’t speak English. The Moroccan was in a Moroccan army PT outfit. They ran together each chattering in their own language. They showed each other their watches, talked about pace count. The language barrier didn’t stop them.