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Utah soldiers share a longing for home

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To three young Utah soldiers, peacekeeping comes down to an everyday grind of patrols and hard work, relieved by videos and sports.

Their attitudes range from a deadpan "just doing my job" to idealism about stopping aggression. They all long to return home.

Pvt. Kevin Mai

A loader on an Abrams tank and a member of Tank Group Alpha-135, 1st Armored Division, loader on an Abrams tank, Mai is a St. George man who just turned 20.

Is America doing any good in Bosnia? "I think so," he said. "I think it keeps everything kind of on a down-low. You know, nobody's going to act too aggressively toward another group" as long as the coalition is here.

He is at Bedrock, a remote base on a high Bosnian hill next to an old quarry. The base is surrounded by gigantic mine truck tires, filled with sand, that serve as a protective wall. From the road below, the knobby tires give the base the look of a medieval fort.

Like all American stations in Bosnia, Bedrock has so many free-time amenities that soldiers tend to forget that, except for the occasional patrol, they are confined to base.

"They've got things like physical activities, sports. There's always movies, places you can go," he said.

In their tanks, he and his unit patrol the nearby quarry. The tank has a three-man crew of driver, gunner and loader. Mai loads the 120-mm. ammunition, which can get heavy.

The soldier misses his friends, family, the old hangouts and especially St. George's warmth. "The weather's always nice down there," he said. But he has many friends he can confide in, and "it's not too bad," he said.

Pvt. Jedediah Levi Smith

Smith, 20, who was disassembling and cleaning his M-16 rifle, did not want to talk about the reasons behind the U.S. presence here. "I'm just doing my job," he said.

As far as recreation goes, the member of the mortar unit likes the basketball court, chow hall and videotapes. "I get along great with the people in my section."

Although he lived in Salt Lake City and enlisted in Utah, "I consider a lot of places my home."

Smith patrols as a member of a QRF, Quick Reaction Force. The purpose of the daily patrol is to "show our presence around the perimeter, let them know we're here . . . If something happens outside the perimeter, we're called out."

Sometimes the patrols go to surrounding towns. "Kids are always waving, asking for bonbons, MREs (packaged meals ready to eat), candy. They're all pretty friendly."

Other than his family and the wife he recently married while on leave in Idaho, what does he miss? "Oh, Taco Bell. First place I ate when I went home. Just pretty much fast food, real malls."

Asked why he joined the Army, Smith replied tersely: "$12,000 cash bonus."

Pvt. Nicholas Alan Keeley

At the much larger base Camp Dobol, about 20 miles southeast of Tuzla, Keeley checked his bulldozer in the maintenance sheds, inspecting it to see if repairs had been made.

"It's been an experience," he said of the Army.

Nearly 19 years old, the Moab man has been in Bosnia since October. His unit, the 84th Engineers of the 2nd Armored Cavalry, plans to return to Fort Polk, La., in June.

What is his job at Camp Dobol? "If we're running 'dozer, basically all we do is, like, level the stuff out, clean trees out, you know. We've built one road."

If he decides to leave the Army when his enlistment expires in three years, he may go into the construction business with his step-dad, Danny Simpson, Moab.

"Right now he's in the process of getting his contractor's license," Keeley said.

What does he think about the American presence in Bosnia? "It's not a bad deal, you know," Keeley said.

"This country is kind of tore up, and right now they're just kind of helping them get re-situated and fix it."