Humanitarian aid mission turns into rescue operation

Story compiled by Sgt. Kelly Whitteaker
First published in
SFOR Informer#144, August 1, 2002

On July 12, a group of military members from Camp Butmir paid a humanitarian aid visit to children suffering from cancerous illnesses at the Kosevo Hospital's oncology ward located in the paediatric clinic. The purpose of the visit was to distribute gifts, and much needed supplies, such as diapers and cleaning materials, to the children and hospital staff. All was going according to plan until an ordinary elevator ride turned into a rescue operation for the visiting troops.

Sarajevo - "After unloading ten cases of milk and other food items from the warehouse, we went to the paediatric clinic. As we entered the ground floor the staff took us to the elevator. The fist half of the group got up the two floors okay, but the other half got stuck in the elevator for the next hour and 15 minutes," said U.S. Army Chaplain, Maj. John Hamilton.
Cramped quarters
"When you push the button to go up and instead you sink down six inches, you know there's a problem," Hamilton explained.
Thankfully, for the soldiers trapped inside the elevator, there were other members of the visiting party who were waiting outside, one of them being Hamilton.
"I wasn't too worried about getting stuck in the elevator because one, there were two narrow windows in the elevator doors, and two, we had support on the outside from the BSB commander and the BSB chaplain," said Lt. Col. John M. Lovejoy, U.S. Army.
"After about 45 minutes we broke the glass of the narrow window and our sergeant major was able to put a fan up to it to improve the circulation inside the elevator," said Hamilton. "It had gotten really hot with 11 people in there. They also passed bottles of water and juice into the cramped confinement."
Help is on the way
Half an hour later, local fire and police units arrived on the seen. Using a crow bar the door to the jammed elevator was finally pried open and the troops were able to get out. After spending time cooling off outside, the team went back into the hospital and continued with their mission of distributing the gifts to the children.
"It was a bit of an ordeal for all of us, but especially for the people that were stuck on the elevator. The soldiers earned their hazardous duty pay for the month," said Hamilton.
"But it was ironic how we went down to deliver humanitarian aid and members of our party ended up being rescued by the firemen," he said.
A sense of humour
"For me, the fun lasted about two minutes. The doors were jammed and we clearly weren't moving for awhile. The heat became oppressive, and we were now the new exhibit at the zoo," said Capt. John White, finance officer in charge, U.S. Army. "Everyone had to look in, laugh, and take pictures. The water, fan, and oxygen were great, but what I really wanted to see were big burly guys with power tools, generators, and blowtorches. I wanted to see a hero step up. When I finally saw they had a crowbar as tall as one of my junior soldiers, I knew the end was near. Once outside, the cool breeze had never felt so good ... and all I wanted were the keys to the vehicle. My hospital visit was over. I'll be back, but show me the stairs, please," said White.
When Hamilton was asked by a local news media cameraman (local media were present at the hospital to cover the humanitarian aid being donated by the troops) if they would ever do this kind of thing again, his reply was right in step with the Army frame of mind.
"Yes, but we just won't use the elevator. Even though we're living in this hi-tech age of ours, I think we're still fully capable of climbing two flights of stairs as Army soldiers," he laughed.
Information for this story was submitted by the U.S. Army Chaplain's office, Camp Butmir.

Related links:
Nations of SFOR: US
Humanitarian Aid

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Photo: Lt. Col. John M. Lovejoy

Members of the United States military, Camp Butmir, spend a sweltering hour and 15 minutes trapped inside a tiny elevator on July 12 at the Kosevo hospital in Sarajevo. The team of troops was on a humanitarian aid mission delivering much-needed items to children being treated for cancerous illnesses.