First Lady, Daughter Visiting U.S. Peacekeepers in Bosnia
TUZLA, Bosnia-Herzegovina (AP) _ Venturing to the front lines of the Bosnia peacekeeping mission, Hillary Rodham Clinton greeted U.S. troops today and heard horror stories about the region’s devastating civil war.
``Sarajevo is the largest graveyard in the world,″ Katarina Mandic, a member of the Federation Constitutional Court, told the first lady at a meeting of federation leaders.
Mrs. Clinton stared intently at Mandic, listening without speaking a word. ``On every corner we find dead bodies. Dead animals,″ the woman continued. ``We found blood and destruction everywhere.″
Earlier, Mrs. Clinton paid a courtesy call to acting Bosnian President Ejup Ganic.
The meetings took place before Mrs. Clinton was scheduled to helicopter to posts outside the safe confines of the U.S. base in Tuzla. Bad weather restricted President Clinton to the base during his January visit.
Afterward, she was addressing U.S. soldiers at a USO show featuring singer Sheryl Crow and comedian Sinbad. The entertainers flew to Bosnia with Mrs. Clinton aboard a C-17 cargo plane laden with gifts and mail for the soldiers, some of whom she met upon her arrival.
Mrs. Clinton would be the first presidential spouse since Eleanor Roosevelt to formally address troops in a potentially hostile area, although not the first to visit a military hot spot.
During the Vietnam War in 1969, for instance, Pat Nixon visited patients at a U.S. field hospital north of Saigon. And in 1990, Barbara Bush and President Bush spent Thanksgiving with U.S. troops massed in Saudi Arabia to oust Iraqi forces from Kuwait.
She flew to Bosnia with her teen-age daughter, Chelsea. Mrs. Clinton chatted with journalists and crewmen during the 90-minute flight, wandering around the spacious plane in a black pantsuit _ a contrast to the blue jeans and other road-ready clothes wore by most everybody else on the plane.
The first lady spent quite a bit of time in the cockpit, with pilot Cheryl Beineke, one of just four female C-17 pilots in the U.S. Air Force.
Opening an eight-day European trip, Mrs. Clinton visited an army base in Baumholder, Germany, on Sunday to thank U.S. troops for staying ``so ready, so focused″ in their risky peacekeeping mission.
``From every perspective that I have been able to see or hear about, things have gone very well because people were so well-prepared, so ready, so focused,″ Mrs. Clinton told about 200 relatives gathered in the Baumholder base’s mess hall Sunday.
After lunch, she stood to give the group a message from the president and all Americans: ``We are very grateful for the sacrifice that every one of you make.″
The president ordered the troops to Bosnia in December as part of a multinational force, promising to get them out within a year. There are 18,500 Americans in Bosnia, 1,700 in Croatia and 4,000 in Hungary for the mission.
Mrs. Clinton’s C-17 cargo plane carried two crates of gifts and mail from Fort Polk, La., for the troops in Bosnia. The president, who visited the fort last week, was asked to send the material to Bosnia with his wife.
The U.S. military community in Baumholder contributed a large-screen television, video recorder, loads of mail and art equipment to the troops for Mrs. Clinton to deliver along with a cache of gifts from American companies.
The troops were getting 2,200 long-distance calling cards, 300 movies and 500 pencils from the companies, which also contributed toys for Bosnian children. The White House chipped in six cases of M&Ms, each box bearing the presidential seal.
In Tuzla, Mrs. Clinton and Chelsea met Bosnian pen pals of American seventh-graders living in Baumholder. On Sunday, they heard the students read essays about how they are grappling with the absence of their parents.
``The most fear I ever felt,″ wrote one unidentified student, ``was the day my Dad announced he was part of Operation Joint Endeavor″ in Bosnia.
``This means a lot, this visit,″ Army wife Dawn Gaylord, five months pregnant and alone, said of Mrs. Clinton’s stop in Germany. ``She’s a mother. She’s a wife. She knows what it’s like to be separated from her husband.″
Mrs. Clinton and Chelsea plan further stops in Italy, Turkey and Greece before wrapping up their eight-day trip.