All girl California rock band entertaining the Peacekeepers in the Balkans and the United Nations-Bosnia, Hungary, Croatia

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During the Clinton era, not too long after the Bosnian/Serbian war-An all female rock band from California goes and entertains the United Nations in Bosnia, Hungary and Croatia.... Here is a diary of drummer Claudia Paige's experience..

Submitted: May 24, 2013

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Submitted: May 24, 2013

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My diary of drumming for the Peacekeepers and the United Nations in Bosnia, Hungary and Croatia, ….

It was the late 90s almost the end of the millennium When I got the call about touring Bosnia and entertaining the United Nations, I couldn’t believe it. It was not that long after the war, though I loved drumming and travelling over seas. Why I chose my Uncle Milty to check on the safety status I don’t know, I called Uncle Milty and asked, "are they fighting over there right now"? Uncle Milty said no, do you need a drum roadie? It sounds like a great experience. So I called my buddy in L.A. and accepted the tour.... Days went by, and I realized the day was getting near to fly across the world and entertain the United Nations. We faxed information back and fourth for a couple of weeks, trying to put together a show with members four hundred miles apart from each other... Capt. Mee from Alington VA. Kept in close contact with us, helping us get our Government Passports, special military badges, medical shots, going over the Government rules and regulations and plane and housing reservations. And to keep your politcal views to ourselves...

After packing three times and changing suitcases twice, I was ready to embark on my adventure.... First stop L.A. to meet the rest of the band and have a quick two-day rehearsal....

Well our two-day rehearsal turned into a four-hour one-day only practice, we spent the rest of our time spray painting our name on the music equipment and taping everything up for the long flight.....

The plane wouldn’t accommodate all of our musical gear, so the bandleader stayed behind for a day to bring the rest of the gear and meet us in Germany. We kissed our loved ones goodbye and got on the plane....

 The bandleader that stayed behind was the only person I knew, and the other girls were sitting so far away on the plane. So there we were on the plane with lots our musical equipment, no band leader and no one spoke a word of German, All we knew was that we would be gone for over a month and we would be greeted by the military and “don't worry” some one will be there to help you with your musical equipment...

The trip was long, a good fourteen hours non-stop to Frankfurt...... After four movies, little sleep, and lots of airplane food, we arrived in Frankfurt, Germany.

  Everything was checked as excess baggage so we made our way to the baggage claim area. There were no porters or the military anywhere to help us with our stuff, we ran around all over the Airport and after a while we found three medium shopping carts and headed for the baggage claim area to wait for our gear... A bass drum, floor tom, other drum cases and amps and guitars came rolling down the ramp, and as we scrambled to load up our equipment into the carts we still didn’t see any Army personnel anywhere. We all took turns looking, running around and trying to find anyone in military gear to let them know “hey, your rock and roll band is here and we’re ready to rock”! After an hour or so we finally found the Army, that’s right, we found the Army, they weren’t looking for us. Tired and hungry for anything other then Airplane food we loaded up on a military bus and headed for Ramstein Air force Base in Frankfurt, Germany.

 Checking into the officers Quarters was easy and boy was it fancy. We each had our own room. Two rooms accuatly, Full bar, TV, V.C.R, Stereo, everything you need and don’t need, I was ready to get horizontal and take it all in

 After a good night sleep we roamed around the base for a couple of days waiting for our other member to arrive with the rest of the musical gear, We Watched movies, bought make up, ate food, played pool, etc…. Finally our other member arrived so we left Germany and headed to Hungary right outside Budapest to “Military Base Tazar” This trip from Germany took many hours on a bus.

 After arriving, my tired foggy eyes adjusted to what was in front of me. What a wake up call, we went to pick up our sleeping gear and army gear, which at the time I didn’t no know why or what we were getting. The sergeant handed me a dark green duffel bag and inside was a thin floor mat, mummy sleeping bag, pair of rubber boots, Gore-Tex jacket, shrapnel proof vest and an Army helmet, all in its American army fatigue. We were sized up and fitted, a private Benjamin moment. I couldn’t believe it, me, a little Mendocino Costal, Northern California, Bay Area girl all grown up and being fitted for Army Fatigue wear, along with the shrapnel proof vest…

 “What did I get myself into, I thought to myself”? I’m a drummer just on another gig, I’m a drummer just on another gig, and what a gig so far, we hadent even played yet….

  We were driven to our housing facilities, and then it hit me. The officer’s quarters in Frankfurt Germany were much different then the officer’s quarters here. It looked like a scene right out of M.A.S.H. Rows and rows of HUGE tents. Sleeping facilities, Dining facilities, Movie tents, First aid, church, Moral boosting area, Post office, the PX store etc. This was a mini world of it’s own. These were men and women living in twenty degrees below zero up to a year at a time. They were called “the peacekeepers”, the S.F.O.R group. [The stabilizing force].  And we were here to entertain them. So much killing had gone on here, I could feel it and I knew this was only the beginning, we still had Bosnia and we hadn’t even played a show yet….

Days went by, and the NATO troops seemed to love us, we would put on our stage clothes and then our army boots and truck through mud and snow, and hike up to where we were performing. Change out of our muddy snowy shoes and get on stage.  For the most part our gigs went according to plan, about two hours of music, usually eight to ten p.m. and anywhere from 40 to 200 people would come. Some places we had even more people. All the soldiers were really happy to see four women kicking some booty up on stage. We were all good musicians, seasoned and could hold our own. We had guitar, bass, drums and lead vocals and all of us singing together. Mostly songs that everyone would know and could sing along to. We played all the popular hits and funky tight grooves. It was a lot of fun and we were getting really tight the more shows we played….

On the military bases there were all different kinds of people and of all ages. The girls, and I mean girls because they were so young, 18-25, were very strong and in excellent shape. Everyone was nice and respectful and very helpful. My attitude changed on what I thought about the military, well, what I thought about what type of person who would join the military. And what I realized is that people I met who joined the military did so for education, to make a living, to learn, to be strong, to have something for the future. A lot of people seemed to come from poor families and they did not want to work at a fast food place. But no one seemed to want to fight and shoot guns and have the attitude I thought they might have..

 We were so close to Serb territory that these American military bases had “a no alcohol policy”, which made everyone on good behavior. A person at all times had to be ready for action. Have your gun on you at all times. Example-right before a solider would walk into a building on the base there would always be a large barrel full of saw dust packed tightly in front of the building. The men and women soldiers would make sure that their guns were completely unloaded before entering inside anywhere and click several times shooting into the barrel.

 Getting from base to base was sticky sometimes as we got closer to Serb territory…  Sarajevo Bosnia was just around the corner and yet I had no concept of what to expect.

 Sometimes we drove from base to base and sometimes we flew, and sometimes not a commercial airline… After flying in a C-130 plane it was great to get back on the ground. All the soldier boys and girls kept telling us that the C-130 was all first class, now I know what they meant. One BIG open room with all of us strapped in like any minute we would all jump and parachute down to the ground. When the plane took off, it took off straight up and fast. Getting strapped in was a task in its self and I was happy that the guy sitting next to me helped me at the last minute before take off. And boy was the plane LOUD. We all had to wear earplugs that was provided and handed out before the plane took off, it was like I was sitting on top of the engine… And if you had to go to the bathroom, you would literally have to go behind a curtain right in front of everyone. We made friends on that C-130 plane trip, had our mystery sandwich lunch together, and played chess on our tiny magnetic chessboard. We finally landed and I was back on the ground. Usually we were the only civilians on the planes or busses, it was like the military would find a place anywhere and stick us there as long as we had a convoy.. All these bases had different names like Tazar, Tuzla, Camp Dobel, Camp Caison, Camp Eagle, Camp Bedrock, Guardian Base, McGovern, Comanche and so on… We always needed an escort between bases, at least four vehicles and one or two soldiers in Humvees with big M16 guns keeping an eye out for snipers. We had to wear our helmets and our shrapnel proof vests at all times traveling from base to base just incase…

 I remember that the bottle water on the bases had a lot of minerals in it so it was like a diuretic. I also remember the military briefing us saying because we were going through what they called “HOSTIL TERITORY” that we could not stop anywhere to use the bathroom.But once they did stop for all of us girls. The one time they did stop all the soldiers got out of their humvees with their guns locked and loaded looking in every direction and escorted us into the bathroom, A women speaking no English charged us and gave us two little squares and let us do our duty. Note-Buy your own kleenix... Pulling over only happened once, it was way too risky for a terrorist attack being in Serb territory, and they did not want any casualties at any time. And I think our escort got yelled at by his superiors on "what did you do?" "You stopped?" Well some of our drives were four hours long so we would try and not drink too many liquids and exspecially the bottle water with all the minerals. A catch 22, we wanted to keep fluids in us to keep up our energy, but we only had access to the water with lots of minerals. Well, sometimes nature calls, so the Red Cross taught us to cut off the top of a water bottle if we had to pee, which was in the back of an Army bus behind the seat. How lovely to be on bumpy roads with soldiers on the bus and land mines all around and you have to go, try and relax with strange people with the thought of a land mine going off… In general, I wasn’t too scared I was just going with the flow and then we arrived at Camp Bedrock….

  We were stopped and asked to show our military passport and badges and then Wham, Bam They searched us up and down and told us that we were on LOCK DOWN till further notice…. Actually I was a bit scared as I had some hash on me that a friendly Sargent had given to me as we had hung out together on tanks reminiscing San Francisco while having a little toke.

“When the military police and their dogs came onto the bus, I was thinking-what was this all about, what do I do with the hash? Then I realized that’s not what they were looking for.. I was able to keep it haa haaa.. But I found out later that the NATO Troops had caught a big war criminal, somebody that had organized and executed a lot of civilians in the market place in Sarjeveo, Bosnia. The military was worried about retaliation and did not want anyone to leave the base until they could secure the area. At that moment I thought of my mom, my Jewish mother who was probably worrying about me so I went to the “Moral Boosting Tent” and had my free call and called her to tell her that I was o.k. and not to worry…. I was happy that Bill Clinton had set up what he called the "Moral Boosting Area" for solders to be able to call home anytime.  I remember calling my mom and she was saying there was no news about Bosnia, or about a war criminal being caught, only about Bill Clinton having sex with Monica Lewinsky. “That is BIG NEWS", I thought”, as I was getting irritated with the thought of know one at home knowing anything that was going on. Ironic huh!!! That’s America for you! I asked her what about the plane that was shot down in Italy by accident? Again, my mom told me the ONLY news that she has seen was regarding our president and the sex scandal. My info was coming from the Stars and Stripes Military News Paper... Well my time was up and I had to say goodbye to my mom.

 I guess the army wanted to take no chances for casualties so no one left the base for a couple of days. We put on two great shows for them. One of dance music and one of good old rock and roll.. Not a lot to do in the middle of nowhere and we kinda stuck out, but that was fun sometimes and we all played it up. So what do you do? You can learn a lot if you want to about the military, and I thought, “well if I am crazy enough to go to a place like this, then why not take advantage and learn about what the heck this is all about”…. We hung out on BRADLEY TANKS and I took to the driver seat which was in the front way down below close to the tires, got to spin around the big guns, looked through the scope and through some infrared goggles which one could see really far away in the dark. We learned about M16 guns, held them and heard strategies incase they needed to keep peace and fight the Serbs. We also learned how much money everything costs, I mean a huge amount of money, BILLIONS and BILLIONS. Each tank can cost up to a billion.  We learned about mines, and how people build them. On one of the bases there was a mine museum and people were happy to educate us about land mines. It’s so psychological I swear. One kind of mine has a little mettle disk that when a vehicle or tank drives over it, it explodes and sends multiple metal disks inside and spins around sending metal pieces flying at great speed and cuts everything in sight.  Very scientific actually! I learned something sick and that is that mines are made to maim you, not necessarily kill you, so soldiers would go back to camp feeling humiliated.

I learned that In Bosnia between 25% and 87% of households had daily activities affected by land mines. One household in 20 reported a land mine victim, a third of these dying in the blast.

Some facts from the 90s-There are a total of 54,554 animals lost due to landmines. Something like a 100 million mines are in place in Afghanistan, Cambodia, Mozambique and a couple of dozen other countries. It is estimated that 80 to 100 million landmines in 70 countries are yet to be found. In Cambodia 300 limbs are lost each month to land mines…. All these killing machines is a lot to take in, and it was all around us… 

We were getting ready to leave Hungary and we were on our way to Sarjeveo, Bosnia.  In general, all of these trips to the different bases in Hungary, Bosnia and Croatia were all a secret regarding their location. No family members or other civilians knew where the camps were. Family had an 800 number to Captain Mee from Arlington VA. And that was it… By the way, try and use that 800 number and see if you can get through haa haa… It never happens… 

Getting to some of the military bases was an experience. Small roads with beautiful landscapes, wooden bridges made with details of etchings and carvings, and then BAMM blown up buildings and yellow tape with the word MINE all over it. I learned what Princess Diana was trying to do and really never took it in until I was in the middle of it. Oh my god it was incredible and unbelievable…  Land mines were everywhere on either side of us. Learning about landmines on bases is very different then being in an area with them all around you. There were blown up cars and more blown up buildings. Towards Bosnia, the roads were really narrow at some places, and we were on a buss so it was a little scary. At times I thought it could be over if the driver slipped over the edge just a tiny bit.It was sick, you could feel death around you, hear crying in the streets, it was very sad. Native Bosnians would come up to the car window and show their deformities hoping to get something like money or food… Mothers would drug their children to keep them quiet and beg for help. Since the money was changing over there and you coulden't use old Bosnian money, kids would try and sell us old Bosnian money for German money and other kinds of money.Sarejejo looked like it was once a beautifull city. I know it was because my Uncle Milty and Auntie Joan went to the Olympics in the 80s and I saw the pictures. Now it felt like a depressed city. Blown up buildings everywhere, destruction all around, red splattered paint in the downtown market place symbolizing where 1,000’s of innocent people had died. Yellow tape in many areas that read MINE, MINE, MINE! We saw empty schoolyards and lots that you could not play in because the mines had not been cleared yet; ”why is that”?  You had to be really careful, REALLY CAREFUL…. The military drilled us over and over about NEVER, NEVER, NEVER GOING OFF THE PATH, and sometimes mines were three feet away from us. Only the military knew where they were and chose not to remove them because it was safer in the long run against the Serbs… Accassionaly you would hear a mine explode and hope no one died. The Military would tell us it was probably an animal that was wandering around in the wrong place. I thought to my self does anyone at home REALLY know what is going on over here??  We walked around and went into places for coffee and food and met people at the local pubs. I saw many young people that looked like they had been through hell and back. Now they’re trying to putt their life back together. We met people who told us stories that they had watched best friends get shot and die right in front of them and scrambled to save them selves. People would be walking in town hand in hand and then one would be shot and ripped away. They would tell us that so many people fled when they could to other countries, but many of the young and stronger ones stayed behind to keep their land and fight.. Pretty soon people would go to the FREEDOM TUNNEL, which was underground and went on forever and go through and get food for their families and bring it back. It felt like a third world country, which I guess it was and is. Now people are being forced to leave other countries and come back and claim what’s left, A mine sweeper is very expensive or so the military says so, removing mines takes a really long time so the Bosnian people start sending cows out instead of their children to help clear the mines.

 We tried to put on a great show and I think we did, but at times it was so hard and we had our own internal band drama, which I’m sure the environment around us contributed to. In Sereajo, Bosnia, around 200 people came out to see us. We had our show in an old movie theater made out of coble stones and stain glass. Kinda like a theater and a gothic church all in one. It made it through the war and had an eerie vibe to it and great acoustics. When we arrived in Bosnia we were taken to our housing facilities and as usually I was walking ahead of everyone. We came to our rooms and I struggled to get the door open. I turned and turned the door handle until I finally broke it. Then a nice tall army guy came to my assistance and with a crooked smile said, “I guess no one told you that in Bosnia the door handles don’t turn, you push the knob” I found that a little strange but now I know, don’t turn, push…. We were exhausted and saddened from our week in Bosnia. The snow was falling and everything looked so surreal. I along with my guitar player seemed to be more adventurous, so when we had down time we explored the area. Curly barbed wire went around the base and it looked so beautiful with snow all around it and then across the street there would be blown up buildings with the yellow tape with the word MINE all over it. A once beautiful hot spring was now contaminated but was still beautiful to look at it through snowflakes. We wanted to explore as much as we could and take it all in because, would we ever come back? One never knows.

It was getting down to our last leg of the tour and we were now on our way to Zagreb, Croatia… First stop Camp Caison. This camp was very desolate. Not as many soldiers there but the ones who were there were significant. That base was considered to be on the front line. We had five Humvees on that trip. Many guns and look out solders everywhere. For now every thing was quiet but just in case all the tanks were in place for war. This was the only place that had incredible chefs. The chefs were from Sweden. They made gourmet food served on white tablecloths and in beautiful candlelight. The soldiers made their environment as beautiful as they could which I understand considering they were in the middle of nowhere. It was nice to be able to perform for these men and women. All types of men and women, straight, old, gay, young and have a bonus with such great food. We stayed for a couple of days and played some great music. We went for a ride on the medical tank. The tank that goes out and rescues people on the front lines or people who were stuck in a minefield. The woman in charge was from Canada and was really fun to hang out with. I really enjoyed that meeting… We were ready to go onto the next adventure. We packed up and headed to Zagreb, Croatia for our last gig. I think we ended up playing eighteen shows in twenty-two days with a couple of days off in Budapest.

To back track a little, Budapest was a beautiful place. I remembered the art and Hungarian culture, it was incredible. We had a couple of days off and went to Budapest.. Buda the older side and Pest the newer side with a bridge going to either side.. It was amazing! Beautiful architecture, coffee, food and wine.. We went to one place for dinner underground, walked through a stone tunnel with tourches of big candles flikering, down and down some more, past big wine barrles, then into a gothic looking open dining area.  We ate at this place down in the old wine cellar, about 50 steps down with incredible gypsy Hungarian music played right at your table. The chef would come to your table and cook right there with wine and brandy. Flames flying in the air and great people and food surrounding us. If you wanted to participate in cooking you too could get up and cook at your table. Tasting wine was different, your waiter would come over with this thing that looked like a huge bagpipe and drip a little wine in your mouth. This is a custom for men so of course I wanted to try it. They were happy to ablidge and gave me a sample. I splurged in Budapest and got my own room at this small inn. I paid $15.00 a night haa haa to have my own space and peace and quiet…. As I reflected on my Budapest trip it was time to go for our last gig and adventure.

At one point there was not enough escorts for our last leg of the trip so the Military decided to take a chance and send us to Zagreb, Croatia without an escort… You know, must save money. They felt it was pretty safe. I was irritated because our bus driver did not speak a word of English. And what if we broke down or got into an accident or the police pulled us over or there was gunfire from a sniper. And we were going on a route that was notoirus for having land mines. The military said they never pull over for the police because you never no…. And that there is so much hostility with the Serbs that you can’t take any chances for an attack. So we won’t pull over and “don’t worry”! But we made it though at one point the bus driver started to fall asleep at the wheel and was swerving all over the place. We were all trying to make lots of noise by turning up the VCR and talking and singing very loud to keep him awake. All on tiny roads with land mines all around. The driver got lost in Zagreb, Croatia for over an hour before we arrived at the United Nations base.

 I would say that there were a lot of Generals and officers from all over the world in Croatia more then any of the other military bases we visited. Every country had their own Army fatigue version. After a while you started to know who was from which country by their fatigue pattern and hats. The party army-The Norwegians, knew how to party, they would hoot and holler the loudest at our shows. One night a solider boy took off his shirt and gave it to me for a momentum. Those boys and girls were so glad to see some entertainment because they mostly would be on guard outside in sub degree weather watching for any sign of trouble… The Candianians were pretty vocal along with the French and the Italians, but the Americans were quiet, always on good behavior, which I found a bit odd. Most all of the bases we played were dry bases. No alcohol aloud, too close to the front line. Of course that did not stop me from having a small bottle of Hennessey Cognac with one of my band mates to keep the chill off in cold snowy weather, along with the sweet officer who shared some hash with me on top of a tank now and then.

Strange world! After every show literally everyone would come rushing to the stage wanting autographs or to talk to someone other then another army person. We felt like stars. Some of the soldiers would have tears in there eyes because they could not believe we would come so far to the middle of nowhere to an unsafe place and bring a little home reality to them. Some of the solider boys and girls looked so young and innocent and I would ask them why they would join the army? Some would respond saying that they saw a commercial with solders driving tanks and thought, “I want to do that”. Mostly the girls said this. Some people would say that they were poor and their family was poor and had no education and it was a way to be set up for life, if one could last there for a while. But this particular military base had the most international feel of them all; everyone involved was part of the United Nations. At the base in Zagreb, Croatia lied a brick wall that came up to your waste and surrounded the base. Names of everyone who had fought and died in the war were embedded in the bricks. And when we got to Zagreb, it was almost dark so we saw candles flickered in the dark honoring the loved ones who had left them behind. At night it was very surreal to walk around and see that so many people had died. The bricks were a symbol to the NATO troops to let them know that they took too long to get involved…Zagreb, Croatia was great to explore. One day I got lost downtown while exploring on my own. Made it to a beautiful cathedral and started walking around wondering how to get back to the base.. 2 nuns walked over to me and started talking. I told them who I was and what I was doing in Croatia and I was a bit lost to where the base was. They ended up adopting me for the day. Showed me all around Zagreb, fed me incredible food from their garden. I will always remember the Sisters there… I did find my way back to the base and started getting ready to perform..

Croatia was one of our best gigs with so many people from all over the world. It was an international convention of NATO and we were entertaining about 1,000 people.  At one point the big General of Croatia, (a strong looking woman) came up to the stage and presented us with a plaque that thanked us for our participation and gave us all metals of honor for coming so far to boost the moral of the United Nations.  A Bob Hope, Marilyn Monroe moment. It was actually very moving. We finished up the evening and had little sleep that night before leaving the next day to go home. Going home was almost as bad as when our bandleader had to stay an extra day before meeting us in Germany. We went to this tiny Airport and checked our baggage in and the airplane people told me to empty my suitcase. We were in a hurry and I thought why? They said we don’t allow anything on the airplane with batteries in it. So I opened my suitcase and took the batteries out of my flashlight and a little clock. I packed everything back and gave it to them. Mean while my other band mates were running to the plane and said they would do everything they could to delay the flight until I could get to the gate. Again the Croatians airline people said you have something in your suitcase with a battery in it. I could not believe it. Didn’t they know that I had a plane to catch? Once again I looked and finally found a light you attach to a book, ripped out the battery, stuffed everything in my suitcase and ran like hell for the plane. Sure enough, the girls got the plane to wait for me. I was the last one aboard, everyone clapped and I was on the tiny plane embarked for Frankfurt Germany then home. When we got to Germany, everyone went their separate ways. I was going to San Francisco and the other girls were doing a little more traveling before going back to Los Angeles. That was one good thing about doing a DOD tour. You can go anywhere for an extra two weeks and the Army will pick up the airfare from where ever.. That was great along with the $100- per show. We were paid for the whole darn tour right when we arrived at the beginning. I ended up sending 85% of my money back to the US since most everything was paid for.

I had a great tour and would do it again. Look, I’m not pro military or pro war, getting a gig to entertain NATO was a life experience that I will never forget. I hope in the future we wont have to have gigs like this one or a need for PEACE KEEPING or ATTACKING, I hope we can learn to help educate not decimate. Teach our children right. …. Many people are still dying over there and many other places in the world as well. Who ever came up with the term ETHNIC CLEANSING is sick and I will never understand it or war. Landmines are an evil form of warfare. They kill and can keep killing long before any conflict ends. They don’t cost much to build but costs plenty to find and destroy.  The mines have got to be cleared and mines in general have got to be wiped out and stop being invented and made… As Princess Diana said, “Lets wake up, take notice and do something about it”.

THE END…

Claudia Paige-Professinal Drummer/Percussionist/Film Scoring www.claudiathedrummer.com

 

 

 


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