Letters from Bosnia: Young service people describe their lives
SPC Joseph Rusk points to the inside of a Bradley tank.
E5 Sgt. Bradley Jones.
As the country marks Memorial Day on Monday, May 27, people will remember and honor the men and women of the nation's armed forces.
Among those from this area currently in the military service are two 1989 Inglemoor graduates, Joe Rusk and Brad Jones, both now stationed in Bosnia.
Their letters and phone conversations provide not only a glimpse of a soldier's daily life in a potentially hostile situation, but some understanding of the country and its people.
Joe, the son of Clem and Julie Rusk of Woodinville, was a standout wrestler in high school, tying the Inglemoor record of 33 wins and only 1 loss in his senior year. He went on to lose a close match in the state tournament finals.
Following the completion of Ranger training, SPC Joseph Rusk was sent to Giessen, Germany. From there, his unit left for Bosnia Jan. 28, 1996, to take part in Operation Joint Endeavor.
Brad Jones is the son of David and Jane Jones. David is the principal of Woodinville High School.
Brad graduated from Inglemoor in 1980 and enlisted in the army in 1989. He has served as a medic in Korea and Germany and has been in Bosnia since January 1996.
Joe Rusk has sent many letters from Bosnia to his parents and to his wife, Melissa. Here are some excerpts:
Brad Jones doesn't write as much, his father David said, but he calls home on a regular basis. He recalls what Brad has said during those telephone conversations:
- 10 February 1996: We just had to move again. We spent two days in Hungary, two days in Croatia just before the Sava River (to Bosnia), then about a week five kilometers south of the Sava. Now we are about 50 k's farther south into Bosnia on an air strip.
We have tents we live in on the runway, and we can't go off the runway because there are mines all around. Not only have they not cleared it, but they confirmed that there are mines before we got here, so, yes, we only have one way to safely get out.
I've been working guard duty all hours of the day and night, filling sand bags (tons!), putting up concertina wire, gates, barriers, plywood floors, unloading trucks of supplies and ammo, and loading.
This is the first time I've been issued real live-for-war Dragon missiles and AT4 rockets that are loaded in our Bradleys (tanks).
Everything is prepped for combat all the way down to our M16 and 203 grenade launchers and sniper rifles. We even have early warning seismic devices. At night we have to scan for at least two hours with our thermal infrared (TIS) 360 degrees inside our Bradleys and have men out on the ground. We are starting patrols tomorrow.
It's snowed for six days in a row; everything is white and frozen. It was sunny today, but we're supposed to get a blizzard tomorrow. There's already about three feet on the ground and we're in a flat wide open area. We have been sleeping in cots and getting T rats (rations) twice a day. We drink only bottled water.
We just got our place squared away with TV and VCR (by the way, send movies), but then we had to move.
- Later in February: So far I've seen lots of burnt-out bullet-shot buildings and two bridges, but no dead people. Nobody's shot at our company yet, and we have not stepped on or rolled over any mines. Lots of people are sick, though.
I'm fine--dirty, scummy, and smelly--but I feel good. Nothing could be worse than Ranger School.
We have to wear our helmets, vests, and flak jackets everywhere we go, even when we're working.
The Bosnian Muslims took a General and Colonel and about 100 other Serbs prisoner or hostage to try for war crimes. The Serbs said they will attack us if they aren't released before today. Don't worry. We're ready. I doubt anything will happen, but I'm staying alert. Love, Joe.
- 21 February 1996: Don't worry, there's no chance to be a hero over here except for volunteering for burning doodoo.
We have been on several combat patrols, dismounted, and mounted. The people are very friendly and glad that we are here in Bosnia.
We crossed the Sava River on the 1st of February and are living in an old run-down factory. It's like living in a warehouse. We got wood/plywood floors, we put in heat, electricity, and fuel, space heaters, and cots, so it's not so bad. Love, Joe.
- 9 April 1996: Everything is OK here. Mines are about our only threat now. People are starting to rebuild their towns, and it's getting warmer. I got my knee drained a couple of days ago. I hurt it jumping out of a five-ton truck while I was carrying all my gear. Love you all, Joe.
- 28 April 1996: Thanks for the package. I don't need any more socks, but candy would be great. The farmers here are lighting their fields on fire, and lots of mines are going off all the time, but it's a good sign, because they're starting to farm again, open stores, and go to school.
While the U.S. headquarters in the American sector is located in Tuzla, E5 Sgt. Jones is serving in Olovo, where he works in the equivalent of an aid station. The town is situated on both sides of a river, with one side ethnically Serbian. The other side is Muslim, where Jones lives, and which he describes as being decimated.
The surrounding land is "not unlike the topography of Enumclaw where Jones' grandparents live," his father said. The unit that Jones is with is responsible for 40 kilometers of highway that links a mountain pass with a river valley.
The recovery of the area's economy is of primary importance, and interestingly, the first commercial efforts to return have been bread baking and laundry, David Jones said.
The days for Brad are very long, he told his father, with the biggest problem the predictablity of the day-to-day routine. "There is no such thing as an eight-hour, five-day work week," Jones said.
On the plus side, however, Jones likes the people and especially the children of Bosnia, and does what he can to help them.
The climate of Bosnia is Mediterranean; the spring temperatures are 75-80. However, when Jones's unit arrived in cold, snowy January, they lived in a tent. Now they are housed in an old tractor factory.