Mike Brethorst saw many incredible things while serving as an Army military intelligence officer on a recent nine-month tour of duty in Bosnia.
Now Brethorst, who returned Wednesday to his post as Brainerd's city planner/community development coordinator, is simply hoping he'll soon see the top of his desk again -- free and clear of unfinished paperwork.
He's been so busy trying to catch up that he worked Saturday processing 11 public hearings and many other projects that will come before the Brainerd Planning Commission April 13. He's also been reading the planning commission and city council meeting minutes for the past year.
"I've got another week before I can probably catch my breath again," said Brethorst with a smile. "These past four days have been very busy."
Brethorst, 28, was one of about 1,100 Minnesota soldiers sent to serve on a peace-keeping mission in Bosnia. Many of them have returned from their rotation overseas or will return shortly. Brethorst, a first lieutenant with the 2/136th Mechanized Infantry based in Moorhead, was promoted to company commander of the 634th Military Intelligence Battalion based in Rosemount after his Bosnian tour. He's served in the Minnesota Army National Guard for the past six years.
While in Bosnia, Brethorst participated in 42 focused missions, which included going door-to-door checking for illegal weapons, appearing on Bosnian radio talk shows to bring public service messages to civilians and even spending the night on a mass grave site in Srebrenica to protect the memorial for former Pres. Bill Clinton's visit in September.
His military unit collected more weapons, like land mines, grenades and guns, during their rotation in Bosnia than the past three rotations of soldiers. When soldiers were excavating in front of an elementary school in order to install a water main they found three unexploded land mines, he said.
Brethorst, who was based at Eagle Base, typically worked 12-hour days performing security missions he is unable to discuss. He was able to use his civilian experience as a planner/community developer to volunteer as a military adviser for four Bosnian cities to review their economic plans and share western development strategies.
In stark contrast to Brainerd, cities in Bosnia are struggling to overcome obstacles for basic necessities, like clean water systems, and are attempting to rebuild their war-torn cities. Most major industries have been destroyed, along with roads and other infrastructure.
But there are other difficulties to overcome as well, such as the ethnic and racial hatred that has remained after the country's civil war from 1992-1995. The Army removed four of the 12 city mayors in the country because of corruption -- men that Brethorst worked with.
Brethorst said it was visibly noticeable that the country's men and boys are simply no longer there. Most were massacred during the civil war. At the Srebrenica mass grave site in which Brethorst served as security for Clinton's visit last year, an estimated 8,000 Muslim boys and men were massacred in July 1995 by Serbs. It was the single biggest atrocity of the Bosnian war and Europe's worst since World War II.
Brethorst visited many mass grave sites, which he said troubled him the most.
"It's made me more appreciative of the privileges we have as American citizens," said Brethorst. "We can protest, demonstrate or oppose our government without fear of reprimand. And I'm not afraid of my Catholic neighbors just because I'm a Methodist."
Brethorst and his wife, Jill, were able to meet in Budapest, Hungary, for a four-day brief stay. He returned home about 2-1/2-weeks ago. City staff gave him a pizza party on Wednesday when he returned to work.
Brethorst said there are many exciting developments on the horizon for the city of Brainerd that he is looking forward to, like new commercial and residential developments.
He said he anticipates about 125-150 new residential homes to be built in the city this year alone. Typically the city issues about 80 new residential building permits a year.
"It's amazing to see the amount of development Brainerd will see in the next five years," he said. "I'm excited to see it and I'm excited to dive right into it."
Brethorst has worked for the city since December 2001. The city hired interim planner Dale Powers in Brethorst's absence but Powers took a position in Illinois in January, leaving the city without a city planner until Brethorst's return last week.
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