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One Airman’s story: From war-torn Bosnia to Operation Inherent Resolve

  • Published
  • By Maj. Angela Webb
  • 379th Air Expeditionary Wing Public Affairs
(This feature is part of the "Through Airmen's Eyes" series. These stories focus on individual Airmen, highlighting their Air Force story.)

Just shy of her third birthday, an international conflict broke out between Bosnia and Serbia. Today, at the age of 26, conflict continues to be part of 1st Lt. Amela Kamencic’s daily life.

Kamencic, a former Bosnian refugee and the 379th Expeditionary Civil Engineer Squadron operations engineering officer-in-charge, recalls when “everything changed” as the U.S. Air Force deployed to assist in Operation Deny Flight. Showing deep gratitude for those who helped during that mission, she later joined and now does her part in Operation Inherent Resolve.

“Before the U.S. arrived, Bosnian men left to fight and there was no way of knowing if they were coming back,” Kamencic said. “This left many women, children and the elderly behind.”

Living close to the Bosnian and Serbian border, those in her village learned to fend for themselves. Many were hungry and needed medical care.

“Neighboring countries would provide some humanitarian aid,” she said. “I remember waiting in long lines for stale bread with my mom, which was our food for the day.”

As Serbian troops moved into Bosnia, various concentration camps were built, which contained thousands of Bosnian men. Kamencic compared the concentration camps, massive graves and land mines to a scene from “Behind Enemy Lines,” which is a movie based on the Bosnian War.

“My uncle was captured and sent to a concentration camp,” she said. “He was released a few months later when the camp was liberated, and sent to Croatia to be nursed back to health before moving to America.”

In November 1996, Kamencic’s family landed in America. Along with her mom, dad and sister, they first arrived in Washington, D.C., and ultimately settled down in Austin, Texas. Excited to live with unfamiliar freedoms and opportunities of the “American Dream,” the lieutenant soon realized her childhood was very different from others.

“I was in the school lunch line, and I had money in my pocket to pay for it; we had been in Texas for almost nine months and we weren’t moving around anymore” she said.

Growing up, part of Kamencic’s “American Dream” was to join the Air Force.

“I remember seeing A-10 (Thunderbolt IIs) and F-15 (Eagles) flying to establish a no-fly zone in Bosnia and it restored hope to become its own country. To this day they are my favorite airframes,” she said.

The idea of serving in the military stuck with her all those years and it became a reality in December 2012. Kamencic was commissioned as a second lieutenant through the Air Force ROTC at the University of Texas.

“I knew that the Air Force is where I belonged,” she said. “I can never thank the (Air Force) enough for saving my life and my service to our great nation is a way of expressing my gratitude. Home is now where the (Air Force) sends me.”

In January, Kamencic deployed to Al Udeid Air Base, Qatar, in support of OIR. She took a long journey once again, but this time departing where her U.S. journey first began -- Washington, D.C. She will redeploy to Ellsworth Air Force Base, South Dakota, in July and plans to marry a fellow Air Force officer in the fall.