On Veterans Day, Veterans
Remember Their Closest Call

by Jim Berlin

When someone says “Happy Veterans Day” to those who served, they often flash back to a moment when they almost bought the farm. And then they contemplate what a subtle line exists between coming home carrying a seabag — or being carried home in a flag-draped coffin.

I was in uniform the day death stopped to look me over, but it wasn’t the one I’d worn in the Marine Reserves 30 years earlier. It was the uniform of the United Nations, topped with a jaunty blue beret…the one we sported in Bosnia as members of the International Police Task Force. The IPTF, composed of police officers from 42 nations, was there to help enforce the Dayton Peace Accords.

Someone had gone through my files, saw I’d been a jarhead and a journalist before joining the Phoenix PD, and summoned me to Sarajevo for a job interview. On September 16, 1997, I sat down in a closet-size office with a Florida cop named Marvin Padgett. We got along beautifully, and two hours later he told me I was hired. I would be the liaison between the IPTF and NATO.

Marvin then called a German police colonel and his young aide into the office to approve his choice. The four of us sat almost knee-to-knee in the tiny room, and after just minutes the colonel said, “Okay, you’re hired! Tomorrow we are flying to several villages and I want you to come along.”

I politely declined, saying all my gear was in Mostar and I wanted to retrieve it before reporting for duty. The colonel said I could get my gear after the tour. But I insisted. I


wanted to return to Mostar that night.

No one in the office was happy with my decision.

Sixteen hours later their Russian MI-8 helicopter ran into heavy fog — and then it ran into a mountain. Every passenger perished in the fireball. Of the four men smiling and talking in that tiny office the previous afternoon, I was the only one still alive.

I’ve always wondered why I was so insistent on returning to Mostar. Now I think I know: The ultimate Commander-in-Chief, God, has a mission for each of us. And he allows us to live until we complete it.

Happy Veterans Day to all who survived – and all the heroes who didn’t.


Why Bosnia Vets Don’t Consider
Bill Clinton a “Lovable Rascal”

By Jim Berlin

Bill Clinton has officially hit the campaign trail for his beloved spouse, and despite GOP wishful thinking he will be Hillary’s most valuable asset.

That’s because the moral character of celebrities – even former presidents – is irrelevant to most Americans: a full 60 percent told the latest Gallup Poll they view Bill “favorably.”

A lot of soldiers I met in Bosnia while Bill was their commander-in-chief would disagree. In the spring of ’98, just after the Monica Lewinsky scandal broke, a “joke” was circulating among the troops…

It centered on December 31st, 1995, the day the 1st Armored Division crossed the Sava River and America rolled from Croatia into Bosnia for the first time: “While we were crossing the Sava,” the joke went, “Our commander was collecting a BJ in the Oval Office.”

It was only a joke at the time because details of the Clinton-Lewinsky affair had yet to be revealed. Hillary was blaming it all on “a right-wing conspiracy” and Bill was saying he wasn’t even sure what sex is.

Months later, after Monica trotted out her famous blue dress – still aglow with Bill’s DNA contributions – we learned all about the nine White House encounters.

And, holy punch line! On December 31st, 1995, while the 1st Armored Division was

actually crossing the Sava River – and potentially rolling into harm’s way – their commander-in-chief was collecting a BJ in the Oval Office from his 22-year-old intern.

I do not look upon Bill Clinton as a lovable rascal. I do not look upon him “favorably.”

I leave that to Americans who are a mile wide – and an inch deep.

Why the Ukrainian Army
Won’t Fight the Russians

 By Jim Berlin

The Ukrainian army and police have yet to raise a finger or fire a single shot in defense of their country against the Russian invaders, and I may know the reason why.

Flashback to the Serb Republic, Bosnia, a Monday morning in ’98. I awake to frantic pounding on the farmhouse door and there stands Sergei, my 23-year-old Ukrainian patrol partner. His eyes are red, uniform disheveled, a weekend’s growth of beard. He is frantic.

“Do you have wodka?” He asks.

“Have what?”

“Wodka, damn it! I’m out of wodka.”

“No, I don’t drink vodka.”

“They sell wodka at the Czech fort,” Sergei says. “I have a map. You drive, okay?”

I patiently explain to Sergei that the Czech fort is 70 kilometers away, most of it over bad road, some of it through unfriendly neighborhoods.

“I’m out of wodka,” he says. The discussion is over.

Two hours later I find the front gate of the Czech compound and pull to the side as several armored vehicles leave the fort. Sergei rushes into the soldiers’ PX and returns minutes later with three liters of vodka. He is cracking one of the bottles as he walks.

I start the UN truck, but Sergei has second thoughts and tells me to wait. He races back into the fort and returns with two more liters of his life’s blood. He is all smiles…

Now we go on patrol,” he says.