Good to be home: Juneau man returns from Afghanistan, Kosovo

Posted: Friday, October 04, 2002

If Juneau's isolation played a role in Mike Dunayski's decision to join the U.S. Army, it may have played an even bigger role in his decision to come back.

Dunayski spent two years based in Germany, with service in Kosovo and Afghanistan.

"Juneau is still a small town, but I think I can make a life here," said Dunayski, who returned to Juneau in August. "At least you don't have to worry about some of the other dumb stuff that's going on in the world here."

Dunayski joined the Alaska National Guard after graduating from Juneau-Douglas High School in 1998. He spent eight weeks in basic training at Fort Leonard Wood, Mo., 13 weeks at advanced individual training in Aberdeen, Md., where he was trained in generator mechanics, and then returned to Juneau for inactive duty with the Guard.

One weekend a month and two weeks a year - the typical service requirements for the Guard - weren't enough for Dunayski.

"I was just getting bored," he said. He signed up for active duty with the Army in July 1999, and was stationed in Bamberg, Germany. He didn't have a chance to stay in Germany for long.

"I got there and they told us that in four months we're going to Kosovo," Dunayski said. Four months later he found himself working 13-hour days in an artillery unit and as a gate guard. Although Dunayski saw no active combat while in Kosovo from November 1999 to June 2000, he did have some sense of the tragedy that had occurred in the war-torn area.

"I didn't really understand what was going on there, but I know the areas we were at had mass pit graves while we were there," he said. "They were one-half-mile away from where we were living."

Slobodon Milosevic, the former Yugoslav president, faces charges of crimes against humanity for his actions in Kosovo in the 1990s. Air strikes by the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, which included the use of U.S. military forces, ended five months before Dunayski arrived in Kosovo.

Dunayski, whose unit donated supplies to a Kosovar school, had limited contact with Kosovars.

"I went on a few missions to the school, to drop off supplies, and everybody had a scared yet happy look on their face," Dunayski said. "Most of the buildings were either bombed out or had some sort of small-arms fire ammunition shot through them, more than likely by the Serbian forces that were occupying Kosovo."

Dunayski returned to Germany and stayed there until he was deployed to Afghanistan, where his unit was in charge of water distribution for the Bagram airfield. Life at the Bagrum base was harder than in Kosovo, Dunayski said.

"In Afghanistan it was pretty stressed out, considering that the building we were living in had a mortar shell through the roof," he said. "The whole base was covered in land mines. There wasn't a day gone by there where we didn't hear between 10 and 20 land mine explosions."

Most of the explosions were detonated in a controlled manner by soldiers.

Although Dunayski said he felt good about the work he was doing in Afghanistan, he said he just was doing his job.

"For the most part, being a soldier isn't about patriotism; it's about getting your job done," he said. "Everybody over there was working at least 12- to 16-hour days. We were lucky just to get a shower in if we had time."

Dunayski's service abroad may have been more difficult for his mother, Vicky, than it was for him.

"When he was in Afghanistan he was able to call us once, and he couldn't tell us where he was," she said. "It was scary to not know exactly where he was."

Vicky Dunayski said she tried to learn about politics in the regions where her son was stationed.

"I watched the news almost every day," she said. "It's always really hard to know what was going on politically, but I knew the motives behind what was happening."

Nevertheless, she said she is happy with her son's decision to serve in the Army and National Guard.

"When he was in high school I knew that he wasn't inclined to be the college type, so I was glad that he was signing up for something that would give him a more sound basis for him to make decisions with," she said. "He's much more confident now."

Alaska National Guard Sgt. David England, who recruited Dunayski in high school and just recently recruited him again for three years of service in the Guard, agreed.

"When Mike was in high school, he needed some kind of sense of direction," England said. "So we sat down and gave him a plan of attack and gave him some goals to meet."

When Dunayski returned to Juneau this summer, England was happy to recruit him for more service.

"We need experienced service members who have performed active-duty time," he said. "We need their leadership. They can relate to people of all backgrounds, different environments. Mike is only 22 years old, but he's more mature than an average 22-year-old."

As for Dunayski, he's just happy right now to be back in Juneau with his family as a civilian.

"I couldn't wait to get out of Juneau when I left, but there's a lot worse than Juneau," he said.

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