SR12 Cultural Day promotes cross-nation appreciation
U.S. service members of Shared Resilience 2012 participated in a SR12 Cultural Day tour of nearby historic and holy sites here June 3.

CAPLJINA, Bosnia and Herzegovina - U.S. service members of Shared Resilience 2012 participated in a SR12 Cultural Day tour of nearby historic and holy sites here June 3.

The tour included Pocitelj, a preserved village from the late 14th century; the Zitomislic Monastery, a Serb Orthodox church; the Buna river spring; the "Old Bridge" of Mostar; and Medjugorje, a Catholic holy site.

"Within five hours, we've seen 600 years of history from the perspective of three different religions," said Lt. Col. Tim Cox, U.S. Army 353rd Civil Affairs Command from Fort Wadsworth, Staten Island, N.Y. "It gives you a real appreciation of how we are able to live, work and prosper together."

The Fort Lauderdale, Fla., native said that America is rich with history, too, but it is a young history. In Europe, and particularly the Balkans, the amount and date of the historic landmarks is staggering.

"Yet we can still come together and complete an operation or engage in war on another continent," he said of the joint medical training here now and the country's support of the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan since 2009. "I have an immense appreciation for how we can do all that."

The cultural tour allowed the participants to see into the different aspects of Bosnian-Herzegovinian culture with information about military structures, religious sites and budding post-war cities.

The first stop was Pocitelj, a village and fort built in the late 14th century. Here, the tour participants could walk through the town's courtyards and meander through winding stairways leading to a bastion overlooking the village.

An excerpt from a traveler's description of the village in 1664 described it by saying, "The Pocitelj fortress is small and firm. Besides towers, walls and the town commander's house, it has a barn, a small mosque, one water-supply tower which leads to the river, an iron gate and 500 cannons. The small town underneath the fortress has 150 houses, covered with stone tiles, gardens and vineyards, and one mosque built in 1562."

The second stop in the tour was the Zitomislic Monastery. The tourists viewed the manicured churchyard, the cemetery and the inside of the small cathedral. The local monk spoke to the gathered crowd, explaining the history behind this holy site and the significance of the tomb within the cathedral.

According to the monk, in 1941, Croat fascists tortured and killed the monks of the church, threw their bodies into a pit and razed the church to the ground. After World War II, the locals rebuilt the site, recovered the remains of the monks and entombed them within the cathedral. However, the church was destroyed again in 1992 during the War in Bosnia and Herzegovina from 1992-95. This time, the monks' remains were nearly obliterated.

The locals began rebuilding the churchyard in its former shape and style in 2002. They placed what remains they could find inside the cathedral and opened church services in 2005.

The third stop was a natural spring at the mouth of the Buna river. The spring produces nearly 30 cubic meters per second of water, which is 30,000 liters. The water emerges from a hole in a pitted, vertical cliff.

Steps to the waterside led tour attendees to a dish attached to a wall chain. The locals believe scooping up and drinking the cold, clear spring water is good luck.

In Mostar, the tour attendees viewed the "Old Bridge," an Ottoman bridge from the 16th century that connects the city's two sections across the Neretva river. The original bridge was destroyed in 1993.

"The cultural day gave us an opportunity to experience the culture first hand, see the after effects of the war and the rebuilding that's going on now," said Chaplain (Capt.) Matt Glaros, 48th Fighter Wing from RAF Lakenheath, England. "There's a good spirit here and the sense of people trying to work together."

The bridge and some buildings in Mostar experienced damage and destruction during the 1992-95 war, but since then, the locals have been rebuilding and renovating. The "Old Bridge" reopened in 2004 thanks due to their efforts.

The fifth and final stop of the tour was Saint Jakov holy site in Medjugorje. The site gained fame in 1981 when six Catholic children reported seeing an apparition of the Virgin Mary. Since then, this has become a pilgrimage site for many Catholics with more than one million annual visitors.

Some locals believe the site is a place of miracles, where seekers may find a personal message from the Virgin Mary. Many report that the message is the same — pray for peace.

The message has a special message for the people of this region, but the sentiment is of universal nature, said U.S. Army Spc. Scott Stauffer, 396th Combat Support Hospital, a Reserve unit based out of Vancouver, Wash.

"Being Catholic, you could really tell it was a holy place," said the Veneta, Ore., native. "It's amazing how our Lady picks a war-torn, remote area to appear. It's like she's telling mankind that even in the worst of times, she's there."

SR12 continues until June 8 and will test the capabilities of expeditionary medical support skills.

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