A sort of homecoming
Part II of II
Sgt. Peter Fitzgerald
First published in
SFOR Informer#130, January 17, 2002
U.S. Army Spc. Aleksandra Vukosavljevic was born and grew
up in Sarajevo. During the war she was separated from her
parents for two years. The family eventually reunited and
immigrated to the United States. Now Aleksandra is back in
Sarajevo, this time as a soldier in SFOR.
Sarajevo - When Aleksandra saw the mountains of Tennessee
for the first time, she thought of home. The landscape reminded
her of the mountains around Sarajevo.
"Except in Tennessee they call them 'hills,'" she
In December of 1994 Aleksandra, along with her parents, brother
and grandmother, left Belgrade for the United States. With
the help of the International Organization for Migration,
the family was able to make a new start in America.
"It was hard the first two years, hard to make friends,"
Aleksandra says. "But what we had was destroyed, so America's
where we made home."
While the children adapted to a new language at school, the
parents struggled just to make a life for the family. The
father, an automotive technician in Sarajevo, found work at
a local lumberyard in Johnson City, Tenn. Aleksandra's mother,
once an archival secretary, began working in restaurants.
"With the language barrier, that's all they could do,"
Aleksandra says. "I acclimated pretty well to the way
of living in the U.S., but it was harder for my parents."
Aleksandra eventually finished high school in Tennessee and
began studying education and social work at university.
"I love kids," she says. "I want to teach and
work with kids."
With the encouragement of a friend, Aleksandra took a break
from her studies to serve in the U.S. Army. She trained as
an administrative specialist and joined the Tennessee Army
National Guard's 176th Maintenance Battalion. When a chance
came to serve in an SFOR mission in Sarajevo, she volunteered
"When I was 13 I couldn't do anything. I thought maybe
now I could least do something to make a difference somehow,"
While her father was enthusiastic about the tour, Aleksandra
says her mother was upset and worried. At home the family
never really discussed the war, so Aleksandra never got a
sense of what happened in Sarajevo.
"They lived the war for two years," she says. "I
didn't know what to expect. I was nervous but I just wanted
to see it again, to see what it looked like."
When Aleksandra arrived last September she began working for
the U.S. Base Support Battalion (BSB) at Camp Butmir. She
now serves the BSB as an administrative specialist, but has
already added much more to her tour here.
"She's a good soldier, very professional," says
Sgt. 1st Class John Bush, BSB first sergeant. "Anything
she can do to help out, she does. She'll never say, 'That's
not my job.'"
With her ability to speak the local language, Aleksandra is
relied on as linguist. She also finds time every week to visit
kids at a local orphanage.
"I think she kind of felt like she was an orphan when
she was removed from her family, and this is her chance to
give back," Bush says. "She's a very warm-hearted
person and I hope this experience is rewarding for her."
At times, the experience has been difficult. Much of what
she knew is now gone, including a family house in Croatia.
"It's not home anymore," she says. "Half the
people I knew aren't here anymore."
Every now and then, however, something happens that puts her
back in mind of the happier times of her youth here, and she
feels like she's dreaming again.
During a visit to her old neighbourhood, Aleksandra goes by
her old school and finds her former English teacher still
there. Mirjana Koprivica, who even taught Aleksandra's father,
remembers one of her best students very well. The two sit
and talk about family, about the mountaineering club they
were both active in.
"I'm so happy to see her," says the teacher. "If
she had stayed here, the situation wouldn't be OK for her.
It's good for her to travel the world. I'm very proud of her."
With a hug the visit ends. Aleksandra is happy for the connection,
but knows things are very much different now. She takes to
the streets of Sarajeveo again, where the cold morning air
ends another dream of the past.
"I can wake up now," she says.
A sort of homecoming
Nations of SFOR: US