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 says.
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 immediately.
"When I was 13 I couldn't do anything. I thought maybe now I could least do something to make a difference somehow," she explains.
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 (Part I)

Related links:
Nations of SFOR: US

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Photos: PO Andy Gedge

Aleksandra sits with students in a classroom of her former school in Sarajevo.

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Aleksandra reunites with her former English teacher, Mirjana Koprivica.