by Keith Nordstrom
BY CRAIG BORGES / SUN CHRONICLE STAFF
There are certain things
you don't do in a war zone. Actually, there are many things,
but those in charge of getting the press in an out of the
Balkans safely have a penchant for stressing one thing in
particular and with good reason.
Land mines have killed or maimed hundreds if not thousands
of people in the Balkans. Mines dot the countryside, from
fields, to woods, to roadways and sidewalks. Before reporters
are allowed to travel with the military into Macedonia and
Kosovo, they must undergo a series of briefings, all designed
to keep them alive.
four of us traveling on this trip to Kosovo - myself, Sun
Chronicle photographer Keith Nordstrom, WHDH-TV reporter
Caterina Bandini and WHDH-TV cameraman Trung Dang - all
had our own take on the politics, the many conflicts and
the reasons why Yugoslavia disintegrated into numerous small
nations over the past 10 years, all broken and dressed in
mourning with little hope for the future.
During the long days and
sleepless evening hours that we've spent together earlier
this week waiting for a military plane or vehicle to take
us further from Massachusetts and closer to the chaotic
border that divides Macedonia and Kosovo, we discussed,
debated and dissected the Balkan question.
But the reality of all the
political talk started to sink in with a briefing on landmine
dangers given to us before leaving the states by U.S. Air
Force Tech Sgt. Craig Seay at Dover Air Force Base in Delaware.
Graphic photos and numerous
props showed not only the damage a small landmine can do,
but just how disguised the killing machines can be. Many
are the size of soda cans or cigarette packs. Some have
double detonation, designed to kill the person who successfully
dismantles the first one.
Again and again the subject
of mines came up among the soldiers assigned to escort us
through the Balkans.
"Stay on the road at all times," they warn. "But
keep your eyes on the road as well."
As one soldier put it, it
only takes a second for someone to lay a mine. Even if the
road had been cleared, the danger remains.
A U.S. soldier with an M16 strapped across his shoulder
and a smart-alack look on his face said it best: "This
isn't Germany, gang."
The location was Skopje
Airport in the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (as
Macedonia is called in politically correct terms). The soldier
who made the remark was leading other soldiers, along with
the four of us, from the tarmac at the Skopje Airport to
the streets outside.
Outside then airport gates,
hundreds of soldiers from various countries, United Arab
Emirates, Switzerland, Jordan and France, milled about alongside
armored vehicles of every sort. Rolls of razor wire lined
the roadways as we were herded onto a waiting bus to be
taken to Camp Able Sentry outside Skopje, to be checked
in and obtain our KFOR (Kosovo Protection Force) press passes.
The soldier was correct.
We weren't in Germany anymore.
At 6:45 p.m. on Wednesday, our four-person press group was
called together at Camp Able Sentry in Macedonia, handed
flak jackets and helmets and told to listen up. It was border-crossing
While a bus idled, a sergeant
gave us a heads up on the art of driving into a war zone.
"You must keep you
flak jacket and Kevlars (helmets) on at all times."
"You must obey the
senior officer on board if something were to happen."
he spoke of could be any number of things, we were told,
from hitting a landmine, to getting ambushed by soldiers
unfriendly to NATO or looking to make a statement.
We took our seats on the
bus along with numerous soldiers being sent into Kosovo
for duty. A humvee with a 50 caliber machine gun attached
to its roof sat in front of the bus, another behind it.
Inside each humvee was a group of heavily armed soldiers.
The humvees began to roll. The trip was under way.
Military vehicles and convoys
from various nations dotted the highway leading to the border.
As we approached, the tension seemed to increase. Radio
communications between the bus driver and the lead humvee
crew became more rapid and frequent.
"Watch the truck broken
down in your path," a voice crackled.
"Roger to that,"
was the response.
"KFOR police are trying
to remove it before you approach."
At the border, the bus stopped
for a moment to allow civilian interpreters to get off and
cross the border on foot. Moments after the humvees and
bus convoy got off the highway and onto a thin dirt road
that ran alongside it. This, we figured out, was the military
road, allowing us a quick route through an otherwise chaotic
and jammed border station.
Trucks lined the highway
above us in both directions. Soldiers swarmed over vehicles,
checking for explosives under each with mirrors attached
On the other side of the
line, there was a small but incredibly dusty town made up
of shack-like buildings that sold everything from insurance
We were now in Kosovo, Yugoslavia.