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Center for Balkan Development
Tel: 978-461-0909
Fax: 978-461-2552
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FOB Briefs
Vol. 10, No. 1, December, 2003

Reflections on Peacekeeping in Bosnia
By Colonel Ronald Lee Cobb, US Army (Ret.)

Colonel Ron Cobb (center), FOB’s Chris Bragdon, Medresa School Imam Razim Colic, and two SFOR soldiers with laptop computers donated to the school by SFOR familes and friends.  

From January 2003 through October 31, 2003, I served the NATO peacekeeping mission as a United States Army Staff Officer in Eagle Base near Tuzla, Bosnia, under the command of General Ron Mason of Stabilization Force (SFOR) 13.

Peacekeeping missions tend to be more complicated than combat. Because of the multiethnic nature of central Bosnia, this was graphically true for our mission. Not only were Croat, Bosniac, Roma (Gypsy), and Serbian identities a part of the puzzle, there were also Roman Catholic, Islamic, Orthodox Christianity, agnostic, atheist, and postcommunist ideologies involved. Tie this in with the Serbian Mafia, the Bosnian Mafia, the slow growth of civil government, the lack of law and civic standards from years of war, and a 50 percent unemployment rate, and one can see how problems can logarithmically escalate.

As Command Chaplain (Colonel) of SFOR 13, one of my peacekeeping duties was to interface with the religious leaders of northeastern Bosnia. In Tuzla, FOB’s director of Bosnia projects, Chris Bragdon, was helpful to me beyond words. He was instrumental in guiding me to propose to Mufti Husein Karazovic four monthly faith-based therapy classes for his imams (Islamic pastors) and leaders so that they could learn methods of therapy that have proven effective in the United States. Chris also suggested a meeting with Father Benedict, abbott of a Serbian Orthodox monastery east of Tuzla. I felt that Chris was such a key part of my communication with these religious leaders that I always invited him to attend these meetings. His sensitivity to Bosnian culture and religion, and the support of FOB Director Glenn Ruga, were a large part of the success of many missions during SFOR 13.

Since the end of the war in 1995, drug addiction and alcoholism have been escalating problems in Bosnia, as they have been for much of eastern Europe and the countries of the former Soviet Union. For years I worked as a nationally certified addiction therapist with the well-known Menninger Psychiatric Hospital, which has recently become part of the Medical Center complex in Houston, Texas. With General Mason’s permission, I brought the first Croatian-language (very similar to Bosnian) Alcoholics Anonymous books into central Bosnia and distributed them to Mufti Karazovic at Tuzla, the local imams, Bishop Basil in Bijelijna, Orthodox priests and monks, Zepce eighth-grade students, Zepce school staff, Imam Tutnjic in Zepce, and the staff at the new rehabilitation center for drug-addicted teenagers north of Lukovac.

After 29 years in the Reserve Components of the United States Army, I retired on November 7, 2003. My plans for 2004 include hosting the leading imam of Tuzla, Amir Karic, in my home in the center of the United States this spring. I know Imam Amir will identify with the Bosnian-like connection to the earth, wheat, cattle, and corn that Kansas citizens understand. Then in May and June 2004, my wife, Kathleen, and I will visit Bosnia with many more AA “Big Books” to take to each of the previous Bosnian groups and to encourage more ethnic interaction and faith-based therapy work. We will then serve as volunteers with Friends of Bosnia and stay with a Bosnian family during our visit.

Colonel Cobb meeting with
Father Benedict in Papraca

Memories of Bosnia: The 35th Division and the SFOR 13 NATO Peace Keeping Mission, the book I have nearly finished writing, has caused me to ponder many things about Bosnia. Good things are happening there. Freedom and free trade are slowly developing. Minefields are being cleared. Shattered buildings are being repaired. What is most important, however, is that through people like Chris Bragdon, Glenn Ruga, and you as volunteers, and through the very hard work of the Bosnian people, human lives are being mended in practical, therapeutic ways and inner and outward peace are coming in small but steady steps. Thank you for caring about your fellow human beings who continue to need your help in Bosnia.

Ron Cobb is the author of a soon-to-be-published book, Memories of Bosnia: The 35th Division and the SFOR 13 NATO Peace Keeping Mission, which
will be available through FOB’s on-line bookstore:

www.friendsof bosnia.org/resource_books.html.