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Balkans - Canadian Armed Forces in Balkans

Canadian Armed Forces

Balkans - Canadian Armed Forces in Balkans


Spinning world globe with text "Canadian Forces in The Balkans" map of Balkans appears on screen

UN soldiers caring for their own, blue helmets and weapons lay on ground

The first day we got there we were shelled so that baptism under fire happened immediately.

Canadian Forces Veteran David Ott

We were the first Canadians shelled since Korea.

Canadian Forces Veteran David Laxton

It became very real, very fast.

Soldier directing traffic while villagers cross street

That was probably the biggest reality check

Canadian Forces Veteran Darcy Neepin

I had ever had in my life.

Canadian Forces Veteran Ross MacDonald

Never ending machine gun fire going on. Battles going on all around us.

Canadian Forces Veteran John Bilinskis

It was like CNN called it at the time, the most dangerous place on Earth.

Soldier standing on guard with rifle in hand in front of wooden fence, debris in background

As a peacekeeper you have to be out in the

Tank parked in front of residence with soldier standing behind the vehicle

open all the time so as a peacekeeper you

Police car drives toward a group of soldiers and the soldiers begin to circle the vehicle

are a walking target and you had that mindset and you accept it.

Canadian Forces Veteran Ross MacDonald

You can’t do the job as a peacekeeper and hide inside your vehicle.

Canadian Forces Veteran Steven Gasser

I think that’s where we’re lucky as Canadians. I think that we’re at least able to stay in a neutral position. I think we’d really get a really hard time if you moved yourself out of that,

A group of UN soldiers walking by residences while locals stand by, they engage in conversation

if you didn’t internalize the neutral position, I think you’d be in big trouble.

A soldier passes candy to three young children sitting on a concrete culvert

We weren’t there to tell anybody what to do or anything like that so we were the first contingent to actually go across

Canadian Forces Veteran David Laxton

this confrontation line.

Canadian Forces Veteran Allan Roberts

The number one aim through all of this, regardless of peacekeeping or peacemaking is to de-escalate as much of

Locals in confrontation on the street, UN soldiers stand by

the violence as possible.

Canadian Forces Veteran Clint Slusar

You would see a bus drive by and hear a shot or two. The bus would pull over and they would bring a body out of it because there were snipers there shooting at innocent women and children constantly. It just didn’t make sense.

UN patrol in line of duty looking at paperwork standing beside their vehicle

That’s why peacekeeping to me is a bit of a misnomer.

Soldiers walking down the street with weapons in hand as they pass by a destroyed buidling

It doesn’t, doesn’t quite fit.

A UN soldier patrolling with weapon in hand walking towards an open door of a concrete building

There was nothing but death, destruction and mayhem there.

Un soldier on patrol walking the street alone

It happened daily, nightly, hourly and by the minute and there was no

Sight of bullet holes in the concrete walls

peace to keep there.

Makeshift tents and campfire burning on the mountainside

Canadian Forces Veteran Robert Wiseman

What a way to live. The air in Bosnia itself, I could never, there was a rotten stench to it every morning when I woke up, a rotten stench. It was raw sewage, it was death.

Canadian Forces Veteran Jesse Adair

I won’t say it was a third world country, it wasn’t but it was just a, it was a second world country that tried

Residence behind the green brush of trees

very hard to blow itself to pieces. Did a pretty good job.

Canadian Forces Major General Lewis MacKenzie

And just about everybody hated us because we were a protection force and weren’t protecting anybody. We were just bringing in food and medicine.

Frame of a vehicle in the gassy yard with an abandoned home in the background

There was a lot of that nasty

A concrete stairway with broken concrete and debirs laying all around

ethnic cleansing.

Inside of an abandoned classroom where broken chairs and tables lay amongst the rubble, total destruction

Dead livestock laying on clay ground

Pets, livestock shot, every single thing.

Landscape of destructiion showing debirs and broken roofs off concrete buildings

I mean if you walked into a village that had been ethnically cleansed,

Canadian Forces Veteran Ross MacDonald

every single living thing was killed.

Canadian Forces Veteran Denis Allaire

If I was a Croat, you were Serbian, well I had no value for your life. You were dirt.

Young woman and child sit along the roadway on piles of debris

You’d end up with relatives against relatives because at one stage they did marry each other.

Canadian Forces Veteran James Fraser

But now they’re on the opposite side.

Canadian Forces Veteran David Ott

The bloodlines are not separated there. There’s no real enemy there. It’s not like the east versus the west, there’s three or four different enemies.

UN soldier sits on top of tank; other tanks are parked - local young boy sits on top of one of the tanks

Some of these soldiers were kids. Like I’ve seen kids no more than twelve

Face of a young boy in green shirt

years old in clothes that didn’t

Canadian Forces Veteran Perry Campbell

even fit them and a rifle hung over their back and they’re down in the city, right and you look at it and say: It’s just a shame!

Canadian Forces Veteran Denis Allaire

When you’re seeing one side using kids of another ethnic group as a shield or a pawn...

Three young children standing in front of a residence with pumpkins laying all over the ground and chickens all around

What’s the first thing you see? Your child. You know.

Canadian Forces Veteran David Laxton

And if you don’t have kids you see your friend’s kids and that. And you see a kid, you just see a kid and it’s not a Bosnian kid, it’s not a Serb kid, it’s just a kid.

Canadian Forces Veteran Alfie Bojalil

Sometimes I wish I could go back in time and go back and maybe save a life but it wasn’t possible.

Canadian Forces Veteran Darcy Grossinger

I mean it affected everybody differently but it did affect everybody, there’s no doubt in my mind.

Canadian Forces Veteran Darcy Neepin

And then they went through their phase and then they started living together so my last tour in 2000 I honestly feel that I noticed a difference there. I noticed a country getting back to normal,

A large group of children and adults congregating in front of building

getting back to a routine way of life where they were neighbours.

Canadian Forces Veteran Darcy Neepin

I don't think those people smiled for about ten years, you know,

Faces of the local people with a smile on their face

and finally you saw them living again.

Collection of interviews with veterans of the Canadian Armed Forces recounting their experience of military service in the Balkans. Lés veterans in the video are: Darcy Neepin, Ross MacDonald, John Bilinskis Steven Gasser, Allan Roberts, Clint Slusar, Robert Wiseman, Jesse Adair, Lewis MacKenzie, Denis Allaire, James Fraser, David Ott, Perry Campbell, David Laxton, Alfie Bojalil and Darcy Grossinger.

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Veterans Affairs Canada
February 2, 2010

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