The USO

https://i2.wp.com/upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/en/f/f8/Small_web_logo.jpgMany of my military brothers and sisters know what the USO is.  They may not all know the history of the organization, but they know that whenever they are travelling around the world they can count on a group of volunteers in their major airports around the world to ensure they have a place to rest and a snack, free if necessary and donations if you can.  There have been many instances in my 23 years of service, weary and worn, that the site of the Red, White, and Blue sign in an airport far from home, has brought a smile to my face because I knew I would find a kind volunteer there with a smile and a donut.

Most of the time the volunteers are veterans or spouses of veterans from wars past.  I have met many WWII, Korea, Viet Nam Vets and their spouses continuing to serve their country through volunteer service to the nations military members.  They love to tell you a story about their military life and one couple told me once how they met at a USO event when he returned from the Korean War.  My Grandmother used to volunteer at the USO during WWII near Scott Field (Now Scott AFB, Illinois).

The reason the USO came up was because when I walked into my room today there was a package on my bed from the USO.  I wasn’t special in anyway… everybody on camp received a package from the USO.  I am sure that we are not the only deployed location that received these holiday care packages.  So many USO volunteers from all over the world got together and put together these items and shipped them off to the deployed personnel around the world.  These are great people who sacrifice their own time to bring joy to those that are away from their families during this holiday season.  I know none of them are probably reading this blog, but I would personally like to thank all of you for your service to our military for over 70 years.  I would also like to thank Mallory.  I don’t know her, but she wrote a post card to an unknown service member that turned out to be me.  She is in the 7th Grade.  She said she was praying for me and that I am her Hero, and God Bless me and my family.  Thank you, Mallory for your kindness.  She ended the post card with a little humor: Why was the math book so depressed?  Because it had lots of problems.  Good stuff.

If you find the time, read the entire Wikipedia article on the USO and if your time is limited, at least read the part about Bob Hope.  I was fortunate enough to be able to see his final Christmas Tour with the USO while serving in Desert Shield/Storm in 1990.  He was an incredible supporter of the military from WWII to Desert Storm spending 48 Christmas’ overseas entertaining the service members.

About the USO (From their web-site: http://www.uso.org):

Throughout our country’s history, Americans have felt profound appreciation and gratitude for the dedication and sacrifice of our troops and their families. The USO provides a tangible way for all of us to say thank you, as it has for 70 years.

Thanks to your generosity, the USO fulfills its mission of lifting the spirits of America’s troops and their families. Through the USO, you touch their lives through an extensive range of programs at more than 160 locations in 27 states and 14 countries, and at hundreds of entertainment events each year.  Thousands of USO volunteers do everything possible to provide a home away from home for our troops and to keep them connected to the families they left behind.

The USO makes sure your help goes to those who need it the most: troops serving in combat, their families, our wounded warriors and their families, and families of the fallen.

As a nonprofit, non-political organization, the USO is now, and always will be, about our troops. Wherever and whenever they go, the USO will be there, until every one comes home.

(From Wikipedia):

The United Service Organizations Inc. (USO) is a nonprofit organization that provides programs, services and live entertainment to United States troops and their families. Since 1941, it has worked in partnership with the Department of Defense (DOD), relying heavily on private contributions and on funds, goods, and services from various corporate and individual donors. Although congressionally chartered, it is not a government agency. The USO operates 160 centers worldwide.

During World War II, the USO became the G.I.’s “home away from home” and began a tradition of entertaining the troops that continues today. Involvement in the USO was one of the many ways in which the nation had come together to support the war effort, with nearly 1.5 million Americans having volunteered their services in some way. After it was disbanded in 1947, it was revived in 1950 for the Korean War, after which it also provided peacetime services. During the Vietnam War, USOs were sometimes located in combat zones.

The organization became particularly famous for its live performances called Camp Shows, through which the entertainment industry helped boost the morale of its servicemen and women. Hollywood in general was eager to show its patriotism, and many famous celebrities joined the ranks of USO entertainers. They entertained in military bases at home and overseas, sometimes placing their own lives in danger, by traveling or performing under hazardous conditions.

Today the USO has over 160 locations around the world in 14 countries (including the U.S.) and 27 states. In 2009, USO centers served 7.7 million visitors. In 2008, Sloan Gibson became the 22nd President and CEO. Brigadier General (Retired) John I. Pray, Jr., joined the USO in 2009 as Senior Vice President of Entertainment and Programs. In 2010, Rear Admiral Frank Thorp IV (USN, ret.) joined the organization as the Senior Vice President of Marketing and Communications. In 2011, USO centers served 8 million visitors.

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Coalition Clean-up

Trash Pic

Last week I volunteered to assist with a trash clean-up detail outside the base.  One of our Army units here worked with the Japanese and Djiboutian Armies to come together for a few hours and clean up about a mile stretch of road between our gate and the Japanese Base gate.  This was all worked through our embassy and the local government.  Each nation committed about 100 troops each for this effort.  I was told that a previous effort to clean this stretch of road was not taken so kindly by the local government.  Their first reaction was that we should pay their people to do this.  We were just trying to be good stewards and they were looking for an opportunity to get more American money.  This time we let the embassy grease the skids.

Believe me, the 1-mile stretch of trash we cleaned up is nothing to the amount of trash that is strewn all over this country.  It is pretty messy, but what can you expect when you are housing refugees from a neighboring war-torn country.  It’s like driving a rental car, I am not overly concerned how dirty it is when I turn it back over as long as it served its purpose when I needed it.  There are plastic bags (Wal-Mart Tumbleweeds as they are called in the States) everywhere.  Stuck in bushes and trees.  I was on a road trip outside the city and just looking out across the desert you could see blue plastic bags out to the horizon, blowing off into the sunset.  That being said…  we were able to do our part and make our area look a little better.

I got the title of “Trash Truck Commander” since I would be in charge of an 8-person team and 4 trucks that would travel between the base and the dump site.  My charge was to gather my folks at the motor pool at 0745, hand out gloves, water and provide a safety brief which included things like watch for spiders and snakes when picking up trash, use 2-man lift when picking up large items, and avoid contact with the various animals in the dump.  Once that was complete we jumped in our trucks and headed to the dump so that everyone knew where to go.

Image

The dump site was about 3 miles up the road from the base.  The plan was to start from here drive down past the US base and turn around at the Japanese base then bring your collection of garbage to the dump and then do it all over again until all the trash was gone.  There would be a team of 8 US Army soldiers stationed in the dump to empty the trucks as they pulled in.  That had to be the worst job.  First off, as you would expect, it smelled pretty foul.  There were piles burning off to the side.  There were animals (camels, cows, and goats) all over the place…  I mean herds of each feeding on the garbage.  There were locals and refugees rooting through the rubbish looking for anything they could recycle or reuse.  We left them their with a box of water and a van.  They were Army, they could survive.

Image

By the time we got back down to the base the clean-up crews had already filled enough bags for a couple of truck loads.  We barely made it down to the Japanese base before all of the trucks were filled, so we had to turn around and head back to the dump.  Fortunately the Army had brought a couple of dump trucks along, because it wasn’t long before they were all full.  We ended up making 3 trips each, plus the dump trucks.  There was so much trash.

Trash Trucks

The event was quite successful.  Our little part of Djibouti was clean and I got to meet a couple of Japanese soldiers, A Romanian sailor, and the only Korean stationed in Djibouti.  Although I was a bit hard on the cleanliness of this country earlier, it was nice to work with the locals to show them that we do care about the country and the people.  The pictures below show a couple of before and after shots that will give you an idea of what the level of effort really was.  It was quite amazing how 3oo international strangers could come together for a couple of hours to make a small difference and make a few new friends.

Trash Pic1

Trash Pic3Trash Pic2

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Staying in Contact with Family

So much has changed from my deployment to Desert Shield/Storm.  I was given 15 minute of morale call time a day.  Try pinning your loved ones down to a set time 12 hours later in the day then you without email or any other means to pre-coordinate this meeting.  You would have to sign up on a list and hope you could get a time that you knew someone would probably be home.  Then the phone lines were crappy and sometime they would drop your call.

Compare that to today…  I can contact my wife any hour of the day with multiple means of communication.  I know that she wishes it wasn’t that easy sometimes.  There are many ways to stay in contact with your family back home.  Here are a few that I use when I am deployed.  One of my favorite is using Skype (www.skype.com) to video chat and call family and friends.  What makes this such a great tool is that you can also buy a phone number and a calling plan for about $25 every 3 months.  This makes it easy to stay in contact with the not so tech savvy like grandmas and others that do not use the internet so much.  I am able make and receive calls from anywhere and to anywhere in the US.  There are other similar options like Magic Jack and Google Voice.

There is also a way to send texts to your family members using your email if you are in the office and want to get a message out to them.  I recommend doing this from a personal account rather than a company/government account only because the firewalls on the these networks may stop this kind of traffic from coming back in if you are waiting for a response.  You have to know what company the other person is using before it will work.  Below are some vendors and their info for sending a text from your email account.

where phonenumber = your 10 digit phone number
US Cellular: phonenumber@email.uscc.net
SunCom:
phonenumber@tms.suncom.com
Powertel:
phonenumber@ptel.net
AT&T:
phonenumber@txt.att.net
AT&T MMS:
phonenumber@MMS.att.net
Alltel:
phonenumber@message.alltel.com
Metro PCS:
phonenumber@MyMetroPcs.com
T-Mobile: phonenumber@tmomail.net
Virgin Mobile: phonenumber@vmobl.com
Cingular: phonenumber@cingularme.com
Sprint: phonenumber@messaging.sprintpcs.com
Verizon: phonenumber@vtext.com
Nextel: phonenumber@messaging.nextel.com

You can also use your office phone to call toll free numbers for using calling cards.  This is useful if the internet is not available.

There is also email and good old fashioned letters in the post office as well.  I thought it would be neat to send my Grandma a letter from here rather than call all the time.  I think she really appreciated it.  My 6 year old was actually able to read my entire letter to him, so that was pretty cool as well.  For deployed personnel, we can mail letters for free.  The days of the romantic letter from the front are nearly a thing of the past.

I am sure their are lots of other ways to keep in touch, these are just few that I use.

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Whale Sharks

Whale Sharks are the largest living non-mammalian vertebrate, rivalling many of the largest dinosaurs in weight.  They have been recorded at over 45 feet long and over 66,000 pounds, making them the largest existing fish.  So, of course, I couldn’t wait to go snorkelling within a few feet of them.  Not to worry though, they are a slow-moving filter feeding shark, which means they do not have teeth like a shark and they feed mainly, though not exclusively, on plankton, which are microscopic plants and animals, so swimming with them is very safe.

This was one of the most incredible “national geographic” moments I have ever experienced.

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We started out at the Port of Djibouti on a large boat ran by a company known as Dolphin Services.  Dan and his team were great hosts and went out of their way to make sure everyone saw a shark before we left.  This was their first tour of the season and it was quite successful.  As we started our 2-hour trip out to the site we picked up a few locals with skiffs that we would use to get close to the sharks.

The whale sharks were in the Gulf of Tadjoura, west of Djibouti City

The whale sharks were in the Gulf of Tadjoura, west of Djibouti City

We stayed close to the coast line, heading west into the Gulf of Tadjoura.  It was a very plain coastline with very little vegetation.  Mostly rocky cliffs and rolling hills.  There were a couple of beaches along the way as well.  We laid around on the deck and took a nap.  It was nice not having anything to do or anywhere to go.

Once we arrived at the site they anchored the boat near a reef.  We would split the tours into two groups.  One team would go out looking for sharks while the other stayed back and hung out on the boat or snorkelled the reef.  I was on the first group to go looking for the sharks.  We grabbed our snorkelling gear and got on a skiff.  The skiff driver did not speak English…  French or Swahili.  Becomes interesting later.  We assume he know what he is doing and head out on our journey.  We probably tooled around the coast line for 45 minutes without a sign of the sharks.  It was starting to look bleak.  Everyone kept looking around for the tell tale sign of the sharks dorsal fin projecting up through the water as it surfaced to feed.  We finally saw a fin break the surface about 50 yards ahead of us and it was off to the races.  The driver pulls right up to the shark and we all jump in.  By the time we got our bearings, it was long gone.  We needed to get out in front of it enough to get in, locate it, and then swim with it.  This is where the language barrier became an issue.  The water was bathtub temperature and very refreshing.  It was also very salty, of course.  It was very clear and you could see over 30 feet around you.  We got back into the boat and started looking again.  We spotted another shark.  He drove right to it, again.  We tried to explain to get in front of it.  He just kept saying “OK” as in “Why aren’t you jumping in the water now?”  I spent 4 years in Belgium, I should be able to give directions in French, So I gave it my best shot.  We were finally able to get ahead of the shark and get in the water before it caught up to us.

I pulled my mask down, set my snorkel, and jumped in.  I turned left…  nothing.  I turned right…  it was 3 feet away from me!  I could nearly touch it.  I started kicking my flippers and staying right next to it.  I held my breath and dove under to see its entire body.  It had to be 20 feet long or more.  It hardly looked like it was moving at all, but it kept pulling away.  I stayed with it for quite a while before it got so far away I could not see it.  That was pretty awesome.  We probably saw 6 or so others and swam with them as well.  We finally got back in the skiff and headed back to the boat.

When we got back we ate lunch and then went swimming along the reef.  This was another incredible experience.  On our way out there we could see little crabs about the size of your hand just hovering a few feet under the surface of the water.  It was funny because as you approached them they would hold their claws up and watch you pass as if they couldn’t wait to snap at you.  There were so many different fish and plant and coral.  Lots of different colors and so deep.  We saw rays and urchins.  At one point a sea turtle came swimming over the top of the reef, so I hovered over it and followed it for a while.  It wasn’t very big, maybe two feet or so from side to side.  It reminded me of Squirt from Finding Nemo.  I bet we were in the water for well over an hour just swimming along the reef finding new stuff.

We finally got back on the boat and so I decided to jump of the top deck into the water.  It was pretty high, but a lot of fun.  It was finally time to get a beer and sit out on the deck and relax.  I slept for a little bit, but mostly just enjoyed the wind in my face and a relaxing day away from the base.  It was a pretty remarkable day.

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The Giving Spirit

Sorry I missed my update from last week.  It was a busy weekend since I was given what they call a wet CLU.  Which means I have doubled my real estate and got indoor plumbing with a sink and toilet and shower that I only have to share with my one neighbor.  It is pretty nice (compared to what I was in, to keep it in perspective).  So my time was consumed with packing all of my things and moving them to my new place and then unpacking and setting up the room on my only day off.  We also had a really good band here last weekend and a BBQ so I spent some time out of my room enjoying the good food and music.  The band’s name was “The Crisis” and they covered every genre of music you could imagine.  Rap, country, classic rock, punk, and blues.  It was a great show.

So I called this post “The Giving Spirit” because I have volunteered to work at one of the local schools to help renovate its infirmary.  They need shelves and doors and paint, so we are going to see what we can do with the resources we have available.  There are some carpenters and med technicians and me that are going to try to make this a sensible place to work if you are dealing with sick kids.  I have also tried to get involved in an English Discussion Group where we meet with locals and just talk about varying topics using English so that they can practice the language with a native speaker.  I will be going on my first trip this week for that program.

There are some opportunities for you to help out as well.  If you have a class, scout troop, church group, or a student needing to do some service hours here is a great opportunity to give directly to African infants and students in need.  All you have to do is collect the items and mail them to me and the base chapel will distribute them to the local schools and orphanages.  All I would ask is that you let me know when you ship it so I can  be on the look out for the items.  Below is a list of items that are needed at the organizations (Where it makes sense, these do not have to be new, but should be in usable condition):

For the Baby Orphanage:
Wipes
Infant clothing (esp. bibs)
Disposable diapers
Diaper ointment

For the Schools:
Notebooks
Pencils and sharpeners

For the Boys Orphanage:
Sneakers
Soccer balls
Clothing

Again, just let me know if you are interested in helping out and I will pass you my address so that you can forward me the donations.  When I get out to the community again, I will get you some pictures of the area to give you an idea of how these folks live.

Hope all is well back home.  Happy Halloween and take care.

Jerry

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English Discussion Group with the Locals

I had a great opportunity to go into the local community and speak to the local population.  Some of the locals are involved in English Language classes and we get to visit their facilities and speak English with them to give them a chance to practice.  We don’t get to teach, just chat.  So below is a recount of my experience:

We met on camp with a group of about 15 folks who had volunteered to take part in our English Discussion Group.  We took a bus into town to the school.  I was amazed at the facilities.  I have seen barns and stables in better shape than what these folks were using as a school.  Their were no windows or doors and the ground was covered with rubble and was uneven dirt between classrooms.  It wasn’t a single structure, but a collection of multiple buildings in a small area scrapped together with whatever wood they could gather to build with.  The desks and benches were all built from scrap wood and looked as though they were going to collapse under the weight of the students.  I wish I could have taken pictures so I could better share this with you all.  I might be able to take some later.

Despite these conditions, the students spoke very good English and the teacher was very positive and prodded many of the students to participate.  The students ranged in age from 10 to 25 years old.  Our job was to come up with topics for the students to discuss and then sit back and chat.  The way we did it was to let them pick two topics and then we would suggest something as well.  It was funny because the men wanted to discuss the American election and the women chose “how do you know someone loves you?”  We recommended the topic “What would you do if you were president?”  I found it interesting that they were basically concerned with the same issues we are when it comes to politics.  They all said that if they were president they would improve education above all and then find ways to create jobs for their people.  There is a 60+% unemployment rate here.  What I nearly laughed about was that they all loved Obama and like him as president “because he was from Kenya.”  If they only knew the level of debates that went on over his citizenship.  The discussion of love also drew similar responses as you would expect anywhere I suppose.  You would never want to be away from the person you loved and you thought about them all the time and you couldn’t eat or sleep because all you wanted to do was be with your love.  The men avoided this topic.  What I also found interesting was that the women talked more than the men did.  Toward the end everyone had spoke on the topics and they asked us to speak on the topics as well.  So we shared our thoughts.

It was a great experience being close to the people of the country I am in.  They seemed very appreciative of our presence and were truly interested in who we are and like to talk about their home as well.  I plan on going out several more times as work permits.

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1 Month has passed

So a month has passed and I am getting into a rhythm here.  The temperature has finally become bearable (under 100 during the day and in the 80s at night).

WORK:
Can’t talk about it much, but I feel like I am making some significant policy adjustments and project progress.  I am a communications (Cyber) guy in an intelligence unit here and I had to figure out how what I do is meeting the needs of the intel folks.  I have a staff of 7 folks to manage this and they all are very knowledgeable and professional.  Looking forward to getting some capabilities in place that will make this unit more effective by leveraging cyber.  The cool thing is that they think I am the Head Wizard in the magic shop that makes the magical things happen on their network.  That’s the beauty of being outside your career field for a while, you can learn how little people know about what you do everyday, even though they could not function without the network.

PLAY:

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Spent the weekend doing some team building with my folks.  Friday we had 2 team members birthdays so we went to the on base club (11 Degrees) and watched Djibouti Idol (Our version of the American Idol) where our talented service members and civilians sang before a tough crowd to move on to the next level.  It was fun and we had a good time hanging out and getting to know each other outside the office.  Saturday one of the camp bands was playing at the local pizza restaurant so we all went downtown and had some great pizza and good Belgian beers.  This pizza place is pretty awesome.  They have about a quarter acre lot with a French owned pizza restaurant and bar on it.  The patio area takes up most of the property and has a beautiful in ground swimming pool for anyone to swim in while you hang out and eat.  The pizza is European style and a great change to our chow hall food.  Sunday we took the shop truck downtown to see the Djibouti market square.  It was a very interesting visit.  I drove and can safely say that I have been in many countries and driven on many international roads and the Djiboutians are the worst drivers in the world.  Far worse than Koreans.  There may as well not be lines on the road as they constantly drive on the wrong side to get around cars going a quarter of the posted speed.  Djiboutian pedestrians are constantly walking into the street without looking.  They don’t look before maneuvering.  Crazy…  but a lot of fun.  In the market you are suddenly rushed and surrounded by locals.  They like to “watch” your car for you and expect you to pay them when you get back.  They also offer to wash it, but I told them not today.  The guy that “watched” our car for us was obviously high on what they call Khat (pronounced cot).  It’s a leaf imported from Ethiopia and is a legal drug popular here in East Africa.  It is an Amphetamine, mild, but  causes feeling of euphoria, abates hunger, and boosts energy.  80% of males are users here and it has addictive qualities.  The people literally stop work around noon and gather together to chew khat.  They basically done for the day and are less productive.  There is no processing of the plant.  It is cut fresh and you put the leave in your cheek and chew it.  The reason I could tell this guy was high was because his eyes were bloodshot and red and his lip was covered in green chunks of leaf.  He would likely use the money I gave him to watch the car to buy more khat.

After we negotiated with five potential car watchers over which one would be the recipient of our Djiboutian Francs when we returned we then ran into a mass of several other locals that wanted us to pay them to take us to a restaurant or bar, on foot, they would simply be our guides.  Again a clear sign of khat on all of them (green foam in the corner of their mouth and chewed leaf stuck to their lips).  We walked over to the market shops and young girls of about 9-13 years old came running out asking us for money or food because they were hungry…  no boys…  not sure why.  We told them “No” and went into the shop.  They are very pushy salesman.  “No” was not an option with these guys.  They kept putting stuff in my hand and telling me how much it cost.  Even if you said no they would drop the price in half until you just walked out.  This time I got an up close experience with khat.  The owner got very close to tell me my “special price” and his cheek was packed with the plant.  His breath reminded me of when I used to cut a field full of weeds and the fresh cut weed smell was in the air.  They call the goods they sell “Africrap” because it is low quality goods, but they have reasonable prices for souvenirs.  We then went to a pub and cooled off paid a guy 1,000 Djiboutian Francs (about $5) to go away because after he took us to the pub he just sat in a chair at our table.  Didn’t have to say anything to him.  Just handed him the money and he left.  The pub had Hoegarrden and Leffe on tap, so that was nice.  Met a couple of Canadians there and chatted a while.  We then left the market and went to a restaurant called “The Melting Pot.”  Not the same as the American Restaurant by the same name.  This was a sushi place.  They had many varieties of sushi and everyone got a different type and tried all of them.  We left there and headed back to base.  It was a pretty good weekend, but a little expensive.  Very enlightening to see the locals out and interact with them.  I would be interested in see how the other classes of folks live outside of the city folks.

I will load some pictures later of our weekend.

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Better to light a candle than to curse the darkness – Chinese Proverb

This image has always fascinated me.  It says so much about the world.  It was used while I was in Korea to show the difference between the North and South end of the peninsula.  South Korea, in the dark, looks like an island because there is no light, save for Pyongyang, between the DMZ and China. It was presented here in Africa when I arrived to demonstrate the environment we are operating in.  Limited resources and no real activity at night.  The briefer said, “With light comes goodness.”  I feel that is a little arrogant to think because there is no light that they are not doing good.  It is more to me like without the light you are not growing.  To me I see that the parts of the world that have the light require the light.  It is an indication of growth and progress.  In America we have productivity around the clock, just as in Europe.  We produce, we process, we transport all hours of the day.  All because we demand it… require it.

Here in Africa, that is not the case.  Let’s take Djibouti for example. If you look closely at the image above the only light in Djibouti is on the coast, in the capital.  Djibouti has a geographically strategic importance to the shipping industry.  It lies at the opening of the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden.  This is a heavy shipping lane for ships bringing goods from east to west.  Thanks to the French who built the Suez Canal in 1869 to shorten the route from India to Europe.  Before this canal was finished the only route was around Africa.  Essentially, Djibouti is the “truck stop” off the highway between destinations.  Djibouti’s economy is dominated by the services sector, providing services as both a transit port for the region and as an international transshipment and refueling center.  If you watch the news and also understand this areas strategic importance then you can understand why these pirates are cropping up in this region.  It is a shipping choke point for the entire industry and these pirates know this.

Outside of the shipping industry Djibouti has very little else.  There is some growth in the minerals industry.  Up the road from here about an hour or so there is the crater lake called Lake Assal.  Lake Assal is a saline lake which is 509 ft below sea level, making it the lowest point on land in Africa and the third lowest land depression on Earth after the Dead Sea and Sea of Galilee. There is no outflow from the lake and, due to high evaporation, the salinity level of its waters is ten times that of the sea, making it one of the most saline bodies of water in the world.  Lake Assal is the world’s largest salt reserve.  Over the past decade there has been growth in the extraction of salt for distribution in the region and into the Middle East.

There are a few others, but they are small.  For the most part Djibouti is mostly barren, with little development in the agricultural and industrial sectors. The country has a harsh climate, a largely unskilled labor force, and limited natural resources.  The unemployment for the country is 59%.  So…, to my point, beyond the port, they do not require light for there is no growth.  And to bring me back to the Chinese Proverb that is the title of this post, We can curse this darkness, succumb to the pirates, ignore this region, or we can bring them light through investing in the future of this region.  Assist in stabilizing the governments through alliances and common goals, training defense forces, and providing support.  Djibouti is an Islamic nation with a cordial relationship with its western allies surrounded by unstable governments. It has great importance to the world as a key “truck stop” for international trade.

I got most of my facts from Wikipedia because it was easy.  You can conduct deeper research if you wish or if you happen to be an expert on Africa I would be glad to have your input.  Thanks for reading.  I will bring you more in a week.

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Life on Camp Lemonnier

Well, it has been two weeks in country and I can say that it is not that bad.  There are a few things you have to get used to like having a roommate, living in a 8′ X 20′ space with that roommate, walking 50 yards to the bathroom outside, sharing that bathroom with hundreds of camp mates, and the Africa heat.

Our living quarters are called CLUs (Containerised Living Units).  Basically, they are 40 foot shipping containers made into apartments.  One container has a wall placed in the middle separating it into two 20 foot spaces.  There are two people per end that share these living spaces.  I live in the only 2-story CLU.  Kind of nice cause I have a redneck deck that overlooks the flightline.  The area where we all live is called CLUville (Cleverly sounds like Whoville) and people who spend too much time in their quarters are known as CLUsers (cleverly sounds like losers).  The bathrooms are peppered throughout CLUville and are known as ablutions (fancy word for toilets and showers).  They are basically 40 foot shipping containers with half filled with toilets and the other end with showers and sinks.  The showers are only 2X2.  I can’t put both of my elbows out without touching the walls.  Due to overcrowding on the base and the limited ability to process waste water we are requested to take a combat shower.  This means you turn on the water and get yourself wet for 30 seconds.  Turn off the water and lather up (Take as long as you like).  You then turn on the water and rinse for 2 mins/30 sec.  If we don’t conserve water this way we will be forced to close bathrooms and limit access…  hot weather and limited showers…  bad idea.  You can either do your own laundry in CLUville or drop it off and have it done for you.  Both have advantages.  I prefer the drop off/pick up method because I hate walking down to the laundry room every 15 mins with my clothes until a washer comes open.

We live about a half mile from where we work.  I am getting on a routine of carrying my uniform to work and wearing shorts and a T-shirt then changing there.  This saves you from being covered in sweat all day from walking around in your hot uniform in this humidity.  There are a lot of ridiculous rules that make you have to think hard before leaving your current location.  You can’t have a bag and go into the dining facility (Chow Hall, Galley, name depends on which service you are in) or BX.  You have to walk past all of these to get to work (about halfway between the point A and B), so if I have my uniform in a bag walking to work I will have to walk past the chow hall to get to work, change, then walk back to the chow hall without a bag (Negating the purpose for wearing civilian clothes to work in the first place because you will sweat).  Planning my trips makes my head hurt.  Not sure if you have heard the riddle about the old man and the bridge.  He is carrying a hen, a fox, and grain.  He can only carry one across the bridge at a time because it is an old bridge and it can’t bear the weight.  He can’t leave the hen with the grain because the hen will eat the grain.  He can’t leave the fox and hen alone because the fox will eat the hen (if you don’t know the answer then Google it).  My life on a daily basis is solving this riddle.

Food on the Camp is only in the chow halls.  No restaurants on camp to buy food.  Nice because it is free and I am not wasting my money on fast food.  The meals are typical cafeteria food (today’s meatloaf is tomorrow’s sloppy joe).  They do a good job of providing variety and adding some ethnic foods in their to keep it from getting boring.  Tacos, Chinese, Filipino, etc…  Every Saturday is steak night.  It’s not too bad.  You can get food 24/7, but only certain hours are sit down meals the hours outside normal meal times are packaged to-go.

You can buy nearly anything you need in the BX.  You may not be able to get your preferred brand, but they have the essentials.  Knowing this could save you from over-packing.  You can buy snacks there as well.  There is a 24-hour gym that is pretty nice.  There is a running trail around the perimeter that goes for about two and a quarter miles.  A coffee shop called “Green Bean Cafe” which is essentially a Starbucks in deployed locations.  It has Wi-Fi and it is where I am writing this post from.  There is a rec-center called “11 Degrees North” where you can play pool, darts, ping pong.  It is also the base club where they have Karaoke, DJs, and other entertainment.  There is a big outdoor stage and huge patio for hanging out.  This is one of two places where you can buy beer.  We are allowed 2 beers a day.  The selection is not too bad.  A couple of African beers that I have never had that I enjoy.  Tusker and St George’s.  They also have  French beer called 1664 and one of my favorite German beers Franziskaner.  The other location to buy beer is The Old Cantina.  It was closed for renovation, but just reopened.  It is where the older folks hang out.  It’s an outdoors venue and is pretty laid back.  Local acoustic bands play there every once in a while.  They call the 11 degrees “11 disease” because it is like a typical club with all of the young kids trying to hook up with each other.

We are allowed to leave the camp and travel downtown Djibouti.  This is a good way to break up the monotony of camp life.  I will talk about this in future posts.  Hope you enjoyed the quick verbal tour of Camp Lemonnier. 

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Journey to Africa

The lines represent the path we took and the colors represent the different days.

The trip started at 0700,  Mary Jayne and the boys took me to breakfast at The Egg and I (one of our favorite breakfast restaurants) before they dropped me at the airport.  It was like any other restaurant visit: order food, small talk, but no anxiety from the kids over me leaving.  I was still wondering if I had forgotten anything (which I will cover later in a post discussing things to bring and things not to bring on this trip for future Djibouti deployers) and appeased my concerns by settling on the fact that it was too late to worry about it and I can always buy it when I get there.  I had military orders, a plane ticket, and a couple of uniforms, so that would be all I needed to get started at my new location.

To add some fun for the kids while I am away, we are going to play a game called where’s Perry.  I brought a stuffed Perry dol with me and I will put him in pictures while I am traveling.  Sometimes it will be obvious and others it will be hard to see him.  He is somewhere in the pictures below.

The front of the Navy Lodge I stayed in at Norfolk NAS, VA.

My first flight took me from Colorado Springs to Norfolk, VA via Houston.  It was an uneventful trip and I arrived safely at my destination where I ran into a group of soldiers from Fort Carson, Colorado that were also going to Djibouti.  From the Norfolk airport we took a taxi over to the base.  The soldiers got off at one location called Ely Hall and the taxi took me over to a beautiful Navy Lodge called Maury Hall.  It was really nice.  I think they had me confused for a Navy Captain who would be a Colonel equivalent in the Air Force.  I was exhausted so I went to the room and watched TV and went to sleep.

The next day I reported to the terminal where we checked in.  We had to be there 4 hours early.  It was uneventful, but very crowded and a slow process.  The plane left around

Perry in Spain

20:00 for the long trip to Rota,Spain.  It was an 7 hour flight over night.  After a couple of hours there we were on our way to Italy with a 2 hour lay over.  It was then off to Bahrain and finally Djibouti at 0400.  Somewhere in the trip 12 September happened, but it just came and went as we continued flying east and the sun moved west.  Each stop we made the temperatures got hotter and the humidity got higher.  It was 95 degree F in Djibouti.  We still had to go through customs and a 2-hour welcome brief, pick up our bags, and find our rooms.  It was recommended that we not go to sleep right away or it will make it harder to adjust.  My plan was to not sleep until 20:00.  I unpacked, wandered around, ate, got internet, and took care of some in processing.  I was out like a light at 19:00.

Entrance to terminal in Bahrain.

At the end of the trip we had flown for 17 hours, 6 hours of layovers, and touched 4 continents.

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