“When they shoot at you, you don’t hear it like in the movies,” said Almira Pasic. “You just feel it zip by you, it’s really kind of like a loud fly.”
Almira is reminiscing on her life in Bosnia in 1992, when war broke out shortly after Bosnia declared its independence. It’s a far cry from her present life as a U.S. citizen living in Jacksonville, Florida and attending an Air Force Reserve Yellow Ribbon Reintegration Program training weekend with her two sons, in Chandler, Ariz. Her oldest son is preparing to deploy to Southeast Asia for the first time in the fall.
Due to her background, she has a heightened sense of uneasiness with her son deploying because she remembers the brutality of war. She recalls with ease what it was like being two months pregnant with her oldest son, with an 8-month-old daughter to look after, and having to hide behind buildings to avoid flying bullets and enemy soldiers.
“They were taking people to the hospital and killing them. You didn’t know at the time, but found out later,” she said. “You couldn’t trust anybody.”
She and her husband immigrated to Germany, shortly before her son Mehmedalija was born. A second son followed two years later. After seven years in Germany, the family was going to be sent back to Bosnia because the war was over.
Even though the fighting had ceased, there were still problems in the region so the family decided to apply to immigrate to the United States. After background checks, medical screenings and interviews they were accepted and arrived in late February 1999. Almira and her husband found work and the whole family became legal citizens three years later.
It was no shock to Almira when her son decided to join the Air Force Reserve because he had always been interested in aviation. He said he knew he wanted to fly aircraft or work on them, and recalls telling his recruiter to get him as close to the aircraft as possible.
Within two months of talking to a recruiter, Airman 1st Class Mehmedalija Pasic was shipping out to Basic Military Training, followed by technical training school as an integrated avionics technician. He has been in the Reserve for 3 ½ years, is stationed at Moody Air Force Base, Georgia, and looking forward to deploying.
“I’m nervous mixed with a lot of excitement,” he said. “I finally have the opportunity to put into effect my training and actually accomplish the mission out there.”
Pasic said his parents shielded him from a lot of the history regarding what happened in Bosnia, because of the horrors. He admits he still doesn’t fully understand all the facts, but is aware of there being a connection between his family’s past and his service.
“When I revisit that topic it upsets me and I get angry,” he said. “It’s definitely connected, just being from a war-torn country and trying to prevent that from happening anywhere else.”
Pasic said he looked forward to the Yellow Ribbon training weekend because it’s his first deployment and he realizes there may be questions he hasn’t thought of, plus the program also provides information to family members. He brought his mother and younger brother, Memsudin, with him for support and also to help them understand what to expect.
“It’s difficult to speak to them sometimes because I understand how the military works and they really don’t have a clue,” he said. “Here, they can actually get the information and it’s broken down for them.”
The Yellow Ribbon Program promotes the well-being of reservists and their loved ones by connecting them with resources before and after deployments. It began in 2008 following a congressional mandate for the Department of Defense to assist reservists and National Guard members in maintaining resiliency as they transition between their military and civilian roles. Each year, the Air Force Reserve program trains 7,000 reservists and those closest to them in education benefits, health care, retirement information and more.
Almira and Memsudin attended to support Mehmedalija, but also because they wanted to learn more about the deployment and resources available for help.
The family attended a total of five breakout sessions on various topics pertaining to the deployment and everyone was surprised at the amount of information and support given to the service member and the family.
“It’s really amazing, this has been so much more than I expected,” Almira said. “It’s much bigger than I thought and everybody is so friendly and there to help you.”
Younger brother Memsudin echoed his mother’s sentiments by saying how happy he was to see the Air Force treat his brother and brother’s family so well.
Pasic was also pleased with Yellow Ribbon and the services made available to him and his family.
“When I found out I was deploying I was really excited, but at the same time I had my concerns, but now my concerns are being addressed and it’s making the whole thing a lot easier,” Pasic said.
While he knows he can’t prepare for everything, he feels he’s at a much better place having gained so much knowledge and resources. He’s also grateful for remembering how being from Bosnia during a time of war correlates with his military service and why he’s doing what he’s doing.
“I don’t want what happened there to happen anywhere else, so being in the Air Force, I do have the ability to make a difference,” Pasic said.