UConn Delegates Visit Students in Bosnia
by John Wray
Bosnia is a bleak and lonely place in the winter, especially for U.S. National Guard troops doing a tour of duty in this war-torn land.
A whirlwind pre-Christmas tour sponsored by the Connecticut National Guard brought about 60 Connecticut elected officials and civic leaders, clergy, media representatives and educators to two military bases in Tuzla to bring greetings from home and see first-hand what the multinational peacekeeping mission entails in human terms.
Three University of Connecticut representatives were among the delegation. They particularly wanted to see some of the UConn students and recent graduates stationed there.
"A key purpose of the trip was to let our troops know they're not forgotten and that the people back home appreciate what they're doing," says Ronald Schurin, executive assistant to President Philip E. Austin. "It's an extraordinary experience for anyone - but particularly for university students - to find themselves fully armed and doing 12-hour shifts in a land most of us have only read about. It isn't surprising that they were happy to see us."
Schurin was armed with a list of a dozen UConn students on active duty in Bosnia. He delivered to them a special medallion of the Wilbur Cross Building and a letter of greetings from President Austin, both reinforcing the message that the University community supports their efforts and is eagerly awaiting their return.
"What impressed me most from my talks with our students and recent graduates," Schurin says, "was the realization that in practical terms our role as the world's one superpower is being implemented on the ground to a large extent by 19 to 25 year-olds. They're the ones putting their lives on hold, and all of us emerged with a clear sense of appreciation for what that entails."
A few of the troops had special requests. One asked if he could be assigned to the same residence hall he left when he returns to the University. Another, a pharmacy student, offered unstinting praise for the people in her school who helped her deal with the logistics of being away during the academic year. A third asked if the University could send him some basketball tapes.
"Winter isn't the same without Husky Hoops," said Capt. Robert Brafford, who is stationed at Eagle Base in Tuzla. "I have been a fan since way back when the teams played in the Field House. I have a lot of basketball fans here in my unit and some UConn students and alumni who wish they could be enjoying the game at home. Your offer to send us tapes of the games will be great for all of us."
The tapes are now being sent on a bi-weekly basis.
Also participating in the goodwill trip were Edna McBreen, associate vice chancellor, and William J. Pizzuto, executive director for administration, both of the Tri-Campus.
"It was thrilling to see our young people in this setting," says McBreen. "This trip was an eye-opener for all of us. I was amazed at the intelligence and discipline these young people bring to the task of keeping the peace."
Pizzuto says the group also met a number of young people from Waterbury and other cities served by the Tri-Campus and that some expressed a desire to continue their education when their tour of duty ends.
"It appears that their experience in Bosnia has given some of these young people a new appreciation of the importance of getting a university education," says Pizzuto. "Many of these inner city kids would not have thought about going to college, but their experience in the military has opened their minds. If they do decide to further their education, we'll be there to help them."