Tuesday, November 23, 1999

Local cop's job in Kosovo: Offer hope

The Cincinnati Enquirer

Garry Day's U.N. beret and badge are symbols of the 20 months he spent in Bosnia and Kosovo.
(Michael Snyder photo)
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        HAMILTON — Garry Day spread a dozen color photographs across his white kitchen table and laughed at the memories. But when he came to one of them, he winced.

        It showed eight everyday people in their 20s and 30s at a gathering. They smiled and embraced one another.

        “Killers,” he said flatly. “The guy on the left murdered dozens of people and was finally turned over to international authorities. The woman next to him was as tough a person as I ever met.”

        He met them in Kosovo, from where he returned Nov. 2. The former Hamilton police officer spent 20 months there and in Bosnia, organizing police departments for the United Nations.

Day, center, organized local police departments as director of the Kosovo Police Service School.
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        What he saw — the killings, the poverty, the despair — gave him a new appreciation of Thanksgiving.

        He was among the first officers and the first Americans to go into Kosovo after the NATO bombing in June, he said. “I had no gun. People treated me like I was a god. They wanted to touch the American flag. I will always remember,” he said.

        Six months after Mr. Day arrived in Kosovo, the story is much the same: violence begets violence. About 1.5 million Albanians returned to find 100,000 homes destroyed and relatives and friends buried in mass graves.

        Twenty-five hundred international officers — 700 American officers in Bosnia and 450 in Kosovo — are trying to impose order on a disorderly place.

        Though the United Nations has maintained a police task force in the war-ravaged area since 1995, Mr. Day didn't hear about it until a former colleague joined. Weeks after Mr. Day inquired, he, too, was standing on foreign soil. He wore a light blue U.N. beret and wondered what he was doing.

        Frankly, he took the job for the money and adventure. He owed college debts for his two daughters, and was out of work. Because he had just spent $168,000 on an unsuccessful campaign for state representative, he had to use his retirement money to help pay for college.

        His pay, largely from U.S. government-retained private contractors who provided training and testing, was $100,000 a year when augmented by U.N. payments while in Kosovo.

        A few months into his assignment, however, he began to understand a greater purpose to his work — to save lives and offer hope.

        Mr. Day joined the U.N.'s International Police Task Force in March 1998, working as adviser to police, the minister of the interior and other officials. He stayed in Bosnia until June 1999, when he left for Kosovo. As chief of staff and director of the Kosovo Police Service School, he hired and organized local police departments in a region torn by war and disease.

        The job wasn't easy. People were out of shape and disinclined to respect human rights. Many younger men had been killed in fighting. The Kosovo Liberation Army

        (KLA) insisted he hire its members, but he refused unless they were qualified.

        They threatened him and followed him. One day they sent Mr. Day an envelope containing a photograph of him taken on the street. A note read: “We're watching you.”

        “I'd go to town meetings and talk to 300 people and tell them about how I wanted to give them a police force,” he said. “Order had to be restored. We'd explain it in Turkish, Serbian and Albanian. The people looked dirty, like they hadn't bathed in months. But you could see in their eyes that they had hope and desire.”

        Mr. Day wasn't the only local officer in the Balkans. Two former Hamilton police officers, Bob Goosey and Al Hopkins, worked with him. Mr. Goosey is still in Kosovo; Mr. Hopkins, who started an officer training program in Bosnia in 1997, wants to return there in January, Mr. Day said.

        “Automobile accidents are the major cause of death with the international officers,” Mr. Day said. “Sickness is another problem. Hepatitis is prevalent. About 15 of a group of 30 got tired of being sick with diarrhea and asked to go home. And, of course, the winters are horrible with snow. Locals try to run U.N. vehicles off the roads. And your car gets stoned and burned. That's a big problem.”

        Yet, he persevered. He trained local officers, went into the field with them for months and helped them understand the concept of human rights.

        Over the months, he continued to interview officer candidates, train them and establish police academies. His first graduating class of 200 included 35 women.

        “That's what will change Kosovo — women's compassion,” Mr. Day said. “People there don't understand human rights. I think women will help.”

        Obviously, it will take time. Mr. Day had to throw away his first 20,000 police applications because of subtle language problems.

        “There was almost a riot when I passed out the applications,” he said. “The Albanians said they had to be listed first. So many mistakes I made. But I learned.”

        At 51, the trim and muscular officer escaped death many times. Once, he walked into the back room of a police duty room only a minute before two hand grenades exploded in the front room.

        The attacks worried his wife, Jane, who tried to maintain a life in Hamilton during his absence. Sometimes she felt like a single parent, dealing with their two daughters and taking care of family business on her own. She even bought a house while he was gone.

        “It became a habit of me saying, "My house, my car, my whatever.' I didn't know how long 20 months could be. If the girls' car broke down, I had to deal with it. I didn't realize how emotional I was. I'd go for weeks, months, without talking to Garry.”

        He worried he would never see Jane again.

        “I thought that this job was not worth dying for,” he said. “Nobody would know why I died. It wore on my nerves. Yet in time I began to love the job because I loved politics. I thought I could change former communists into respecting people. I thought maybe I could help undo hundreds of years of hatred between the various ethnic groups.

        “I was torn between the people and my home. On one hand, I didn't want to come back because my job wasn't finished. People depended on me; they asked me to stay and help hire more more police. I didn't take a day off for 101/2 months. So in the end, I had a hard time leaving. But then Jane said: "Twenty months is long enough. I need my husband.' So I came home.”

        Back in the safety of his small brick house, Garry Day ponders his photographs and shows visitors the wristwatch his own police officers bought for him before he left Kosovo. To him, it is a symbol of friendship.

        He knows his personal odyssey changed his life, and many in Kosovo. The situation taught him to appreciate the political stability of his own country, and to know how cruel people can be in the name of the cause.

        On this special Thanksgiving, he and his wife will think about their immediate future.

        Despite the hardships, Mr. Day said many international police officers want to return for second tours of duty. He is scheduled to return to Kosovo Jan. 2 for one year, unless he chooses East Timor instead.

        “I'm no hero,” he said. “I'm just a guy from Hamilton, Ohio, who tried to help people a world away.”


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