|Pawlenty in Bosnia|
Tuzla, Bosnia — Camp McGovern is nestled in northeastern Bosnia, close to the Croatian border. The former collective farm now plays host to nearly 300 Minnesota National Guard troops -- and, for a day at least, one Minnesota governor. Pawlenty spent his first night in Bosnia at McGovern, and after a quick Sunday morning church service, set out on a tour of the grounds. In the base's medical facilities, he stopped to chat with fellow Minnesotans.
More than 1,000 Minnesotans have been in Bosnia since September -- and are expected to remain until late March. It's the largest deployment of Minnesota Guardsmen and -women since World War II. And Pawlenty says he wanted to express Minnesota's gratitude for their work.
"Thank you all for being here. We appreciate your service very much," Pawlenty told the troops.
Bosnia was torn apart by civil war following the breakup of Yugoslavia in the early '90s. NATO intervention finally brought an end to the hostilities, but not before the loss of more than 250,000 lives and the creation of more than two million refugees.
The countryside remains treacherous, laced with an estimated one to three million land mines. And regular patrols by Minnesota soldiers recover hundreds of hand grenades, automatic weapons, and rounds of ammunition. Lt. Col. Kevin Gutknecht of Eagan commands Camp McGovern's Task Force Iron. He says a recent discussion with Serbian and Muslim officials shows how tenuous the peace remains.
"During the course of our conversation, the Serbian said to me, 'Well, my boss here is a Muslim, and I'm a Serbian. And we have some differences in how we look at things. If the United States hadn't showed up and stopped the war when it did, he and I would probaby still be in the trenches across from each other fighting.' I think that at some level, there might still be a conflict," he says.
Gutknecht says the good news is the Guard presence has stabilized the country, hopefully allowing old wounds to heal. And on the day of Pawlenty's visit, the soldiers received other welcome news: Saddam Hussein had been captured in Iraq. Pawlenty celebrated the announcement with soldiers from the 2nd Battalion, 194th Armor -- based in Duluth.
"If you run a rat race, you're still a rat. We caught a rat in a hole outside of Baghdad, outside of Tikrit," Pawlenty said to the cheers of the soldiers. "And what a great day and accomplishment for our men and women in the United States military."
Pawlenty soon returned to the topic at hand, applauding the Guard for their efforts to end centuries of strife in the Balkans.
"Whether it's Alexander the Great, whether it's the Roman Empire, whether it is the Ottoman Empire, this is an area that throughout history has known a lot of conflict and a lot of war and a lot of destabiliazation, a lot of oppression. And your presence here has brought stability to that. Think about the magnitude of what you have done," said Pawlenty.
During a town hall meeting, Pawlenty fielded questions from the troops about life back in Minnesota, discussing education, the state budget, and professional sports. Afterwards, soldiers lined up to be photographed with the governor and First Lady Mary Pawlenty.
Sgt. Jennifer Urbatch of Mankato says she was largely unfamiliar with the governor and his wife before their visit. But she says the troops appreciate their encouragement and support.
"It means a lot to us. ... knowing that he actually takes time out of his day to come and speak to us," says Urbatch.
Pawlenty finishes his two-day trip Monday, and returns to Minnesota Tuesday evening.