One Aspen Hill resident pays a high price for peace
Dec. 4, 2002
Effie Bathen
Staff Writer

Effie Bathen/The Gazette

Martin Begosh of Aspen Hill, injured during the peace-keeping mission in Bosnia in late 1995, is concentrating on life as a civilian.

When Martin John Begosh was growing up in the Wheaton Woods section of Aspen Hill, he couldn't predict that he would someday be chatting with the President of the United States or skiing with Tipper Gore.

Nor did he dream he would be featured in magazines like "Life."

"It was my 15 minutes of fame," the 29-year-old former soldier said with a laugh.

More accurately, it was a small part of almost seven years of pain and uncertainty.

On Dec. 30, 1995, the Humvee he was driving hit an anti-tank mine on a frozen mud road in Bosnia.

The military police specialist became the first American injured in that peacekeeping mission, and made international headlines.

Before his mission in Bosnia, he had also served for five months in a U.S.­led humanitarian mission in Somalia.

As the nation again faces the possibility of sending U.S. ground forces into hostile territory, Begosh talked about some of his experiences.

The missions during the last decade of peacekeeping, humanitarian assistance and nation-building may indicate what could lie ahead for ground forces in the future.

The reality is that to win and keep peace, thousands of young military men and women like Begosh have to earn it.

Sometimes they pay for it with their life -- or a piece of it.

Smoldering Somalia

Before he nearly lost a foot in Bosnia, Begosh served from January to May 1993 in Somalia.

Most people remember that humanitarian mission by horrifying TV scenes months later in October of an angry mob dragging a U.S. soldier's battered and naked body through the streets of Mogadishu.

"Black Hawk Down," the Ridley Scott movie and book by Mark Bowden, is based on that firefight, which left 19 U.S. soldiers dead.

Begosh was part of the earliest U.S. units in the area running security patrols before that incident occurred.

What he most remembers was being on the road at night, he said.

"When the convoy stops. I remember just looking over into the blackness," he said. "The scariest thing is the totally unknown."

By day, he felt lucky when he didn't have to be the last one in a convoy because a convoy could kick up a suffocating cloud of dust. Those in "the hole" in the Humvee's roof viewed the world through blackened goggles.

"Unless you were in the first vehicle, you were hating life," he said. "The good thing about the dirt was that you could see somebody coming 50 miles away."

People in the Aspen Hill area had an idea of what it was like being in that kind of combat "hot area" this October when they were living under the threat of the Washington-area sniper attacks, he said.

In Somalia's heat, the military police wore heavy Kevlar helmets and vests. It was so hot that they did their physical training at night.

They were camped on the beach until a Marine was killed by a shark, he said.

Begosh, who was often the driver for the executive officer, said he was amazed at the vehicles the Somalis kept running on the road.

"You'd see a Toyota with 50 people hanging off of it," he said. "They would have the axle duct-taped together."

The military police task was to inspect vehicles for assault rifles and register weapons. They stopped a vehicle about every 30 minutes, but it would take 20 minutes just to get the people off it, he said.

The goal was to establish "security within reason."

What he considered odd was that the MPs would seize hand pistols because they were too easily concealed, yet allow the clan fighters to keep their automatic assault weapons.

President George Herbert Walker Bush ordered U.S. forces into Somalia during a cease-fire in a multi-clan war that had thrown the famine- and drought-stricken country into chaos.

The Somalia experience was a turning point for modern military forces. Older war veterans often speak about their traditional combat experiences, but those like Begosh who have served in so-called "non-combat" missions of the last decade are a different breed, he said.

"Infantry and Marines are trained to kill, kill," he said. "MPs go in not to kill everybody and try to help. We just go in for a certain few."

Determining which ones is the question, he said.

He learned firsthand that he could be talking to a local person with a hidden AK-47 assault rifle stashed nearby. The next minute, Begosh said, "he goes around a corner and starts shooting at you."

He said he was constantly assessing threats. Who could be an enemy sympathizer? Where do you draw the line? How far do you go?

Blasted into history

In December 1995, one of the coldest and bleakest winters of the decade, American troops stood at the edge of the Sava River, ready to cross into Bosnia.

Begosh joined a small MP contingent running reconnaissance missions for two days to determine a staging area for some 20,000 U.S. troops.

"We were marking the route when I got blown back here," he said.

From January 1996 to March 2000, he was put on medical hold at Walter Reed Army Medical Center before getting a medical discharge.

He lost a part of his right foot and still carries a steel rod in his leg. He walks with a slight limp, mostly in the mornings and at the end of the day when the pain is worse.

The hardest part of his recuperation, he said, was suddenly slowing down after gearing up for what would have been his second military hotspot.

During his recovery, the Army's top command sergeant-major visited him and asked him what he wanted. Begosh told him two things: "I wanted to be promoted and go back to Bosnia."

He got his promotion to sergeant. But returning to the former Yugoslavia never materialized.

Instead, his Bosnia wounds earned him a dizzying array of public events. In addition to being called by former President Bush and being invited to a Colorado ski trip for Disabled American Veterans, he also carried the 1996 Olympic torch to the White House.

The recovering soldier had a hard time reconciling all of that attention with the stresses of 21 medical operations.

"I get blown up. I get medevac-ed here. I'm feeling like I'm having surgery every other day," he said. "Then the DAV presents me with a life membership and sends me skiing."

In Bosnia, the military police specialist was at the top of his game -- combat trained, traveling the world and risking his life to save it.

Today, he is a bookkeeper for his parents tax business at the old B&O Railroad Station in Rockville. He kept studying, he said, because he knew he needed to move on.

But he yearns to return to physical outdoor life. Before he joined the Army, he was a volunteer at Kensington Volunteer Fire Department Station 21.

"I always wanted to be in some kind of position to help. Do some kind of public service," he said.

He has almost lost hope of using his police and rescue training again.

"I'd be the weak link," he said leaning back in a chair and propping two black boots on the edge of his desk. "For a while I was mad at everybody."

More recently, he has made adjustments. He shaved his hair and grew a beard. He joined the Blue Knights, a law enforcement motorcycle club, and rides a Honda sport touring bike.

He has also started kayaking, he said. "It's all upper body."

He said he is concentrating on what he could do, not what he can't.