Reporters Notebook
Photos by Keith Nordstrom

OPERATION KOSOVO
BY CRAIG BORGES / SUN CHRONICLE STAFF

Feeling at home here in Kosovo is relatively easy seeing my hometown of Fall River seems to be well represented.
In the 399th Combat Support Hospital out of Taunton there's three soldiers from the Spindle City including Lt. Michael Oliveira, Sgt. 1st Class Louis Santos, and Staff Sgt. Dawn Dean. And, while out on patrol with the 1st Battalion, 325th Airborne Infantry Regiment of the 82nd Airborne Division, I ran into Pvt. 1st Class Jason Hashim, another Fall Riverite, standing guard in a run-down Serb neighborhood surrounded by razor wire.

It's a good feeling to be so far from home and be able to talk about things like Durfee High; the South End, North End and East End; the Flint; the Ukrainian Club, chorizo, sweetbread, the longest bridge in the world (the Braga, from Somerset to Portugal), and then amuse all those from elsewhere sitting at our table with the fact that Lizzie Borden is our native gal.

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Speaking of Fall River, WHDH-TV reporter Caterina Bandini, who is with The Sun Chronicle in Kosovo this week, sparked a bit of controversy while speaking to a few Fall River natives when she asked: "Wasn't that where the Big Dan rape took place?" Aughhhh, was the response at the dinner table. That's New Bedford. No self-respecting Fall River boy or girl would ever want to be confused with New Bedford, but it happens time and time again.

For the record: Lizzie Borden's father and stepmother were axed to death in Lizzie's Fall River home. Lizzie was tried, and found INNOCENT of the crime in New Bedford Superior Court. The Big Dan's rape took place at a bar in New Bedford. The men were tried, and found GUILTY of the crime in Fall River Superior Court.

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Dogs, like the people, have a difficult life here in Kosovo. When Serb troops bulldozed their way through the province in 1999, those lucky enough to live, did so only by fleeing with the clothes on their backs. Pets were left to themselves. Dogs teamed up in packs to survive, became untrusting and even dangerous. Health officials have been forced to carry out what are known here as "dog shoots" every once in a while ever since. In the city of Gjilani a few weeks ago, for example, soldiers said health officials toured the area with sharpshooters, killing more than 80 dogs.

Dogs lucky enough to attach themselves to a U.S. platoon, however, have it a little better. Though forbidden to have dogs as pets, especially near barracks, some U.S. soldiers in the remote checkpoints and outposts befriend the hungry and dirty dogs while stationed here. One dog, which soldiers named Rufus, apparently was so well loved by troops that he went on patrol with them everywhere and fended off other dogs that tried to approach the soldiers. And in the European sector at Skopje, Macedonia, one little dog was so loved and cared for he even had his own KFOR pass, allowing him access to just about everywhere on the base.

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Camp Bondsteel was designed for short-term living. The sprawling complex, as high-tech and comfortable as it may be, is made up of seahuts, tents and modular buildings. But the dirt roads cause quite a problem. Everything here is covered in a fine dust, even though gravel has been dropped on the roadways and water trucks spray them to keep dust down each day. When it rains, the area is a mud bowl - the fine tan mud of the roadways combines with the thick red clay-like mud that is native to the area forming a sticky, gooey mess. To solve the problem, the military is planning to tar the roadways. But, again, nothing's easy in the Balkans. Some people have interpreted this as another step to the United States establishing a permanent Army base in Kosovo, according to Staff Sgt. Brian Thomas of the Task Force Falcon public affairs office. "It's really just to keep the dust down," he said while leading The Sun Chronicle on a tour of the camp on a windy, dust- dirt- and grit-filled day. "Look how bad it is."

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The rumor from Belgrade, according to some web reports, is that the United States has taken out a 75-year-lease for the property at Bondsteel. These rumors could not be confirmed but those in the military laughed when asked about it.

"They (Yugoslavs) are always trying to say that," one soldiers said. "Who knows? I can tell you they wouldn't tell us if they did."