Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Special Delivery Troops in Bosnia Get Rain for Christmas

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Special Delivery Troops in Bosnia Get Rain for Christmas

Article excerpt

American troops spent a muddy first Christmas in Bosnia, enjoying a hot turkey dinner and a visit from Santa Claus as they prepared for the arrival of thousands more soldiers.

"I was hoping for a white Christmas, but I guess rain will have to do," said Air Force Capt. Ed Thomas, sloshing through ankle-deep muck at Tuzla air base, the U.S. headquarters in Bosnia.

British troops held a traditional Christmas dinner in Sarajevo's Zetra stadium, next to sprawling cemeteries.

Sixty thousand NATO-led troops, including 20,000 Americans, are taking positions in Bosnia to enforce a peace brokered by the United States.

The 1,500 soldiers at the Tuzla base spent most of the day patrolling and setting up equipment in a cold rain.

Gen. William Nash, commander of the U.S. sector, flew over the Sava River, where Army engineers are building a pontoon bridge on which thousands of troops will move into northeastern Bosnia.

He said the bridge would be finished by year's end.

Meanwhile, Col. Richard Pernod, spokesman for the French command serving in Sarajevo, said both government and Serbian troops continued to pull back from Sarajevo's front line.

Preliminary withdrawals must take place by midnight Wednesday - one week after NATO formally took over from a U.N. peacekeeping force.

The American soldiers in Tuzla filed through portable kitchens to pile plates with turkey, corn on the cob, sweet potatoes and apple pie.

The dinner "helps a lot," said a smiling Pfc. Steven Rojas of Guam, who was up at 2 a.m. filling sandbags. "It beats MREs," he said, referring to "meals ready to eat," the combat rations the troops have eaten since they arrived in Bosnia.

Rojas said he was trying not to think about being away from his wife and 2-year-old daughter for Christmas.

"Thank God that I'm here and alive another day," he said. "I just hope I make it home in one piece."

Spc. Donald Mears, 27, of Laurinburg, N.C., wolfed down his Christmas meal and said he would rather have been home. …

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