In 2002, I was deployed to Bosnia-Herzegovina as part of SFOR 11, or Stabilization Force 11. This was my first deployment, and I was just really learning photography and how to be a Soldier.
One of my most memorable missions there was with the unit ministry team. On this particular mission, the spiritual leaders hosted a trip for Soldiers to visit Medjugorje, a site where apparitions of the Virgin Mary have been reported. On this “retreat,” Soldiers were given a tour of the small village and the church, where they learned a little bit about the history behind the Virgin Mary sightings. They were also given time to climb the mountainside where the visions have appeared.
As we were walking up the rocky mountainside, I noticed an elderly lady walking ahead of me barefoot. I was in awe of her. She walked and walked on the rocks gracefully as I stumbled in my boots carrying my gear. As I look through the pictures now though, there is not one picture of her. Not one. I remember her vividly as she was older and wearing more of a old-school, muslim-style garment. Years later, I wonder why I didn’t take photos of her. Was I too busy trying not to fall? Trying to respect her journey? Or, was she really even there? Honestly, I am not sure…
Anyway, once on top of the hill, documenting the event was particularly challenging for me. As a new Soldier and photographer, it was a fine line of documenting the event while not being too intrusive. Many Soldiers had some very emotional moments on that hill, and I tried to be respectfully of that. Before we made the trek up the hill, I did instruct them that I was documenting the event and that if I was intruding, all they needed to do was raise their hand and I would turn away from them. Generally, I shot at a distance, but, I did get a couple of Soldiers to wave me a way. The whole emotional side of the event, made me a bit timid and I did not shoot a ton of pictures. (And some that I did shoot were not even that great, which is a real shame.)
I look back at the pictures now and think a few different things. One, that was an amazing mission to be a part of. In terms of results, the impact of that trip was huge. Two, I wish I could redo this mission as my photo skills were just so fresh back then. Three, I would have liked to take more photos and not have been so timid. There are so many things I missed. And four, I wish I had time to go up that mountain again. However, this time with no camera, just me and my thoughts…and maybe that elderly lady walking in her bare feet would be there. If so, maybe we could sit and chat.
To view my Photography Haiku on this trip, click here.