By Air Force Tech. Sgt. Andria AllmondCombined Joint Task Force Horn of Africa
CAMP LEMONNIER, Djibouti, May 24, 2017 — “Back. Front. Back. Back. Front.” A muddy trickle of sweat trailed down Navy Petty Officer 3rd Class Lacy P’Pool’s face, her voice gently directing a hand-clapping game with the little boy.
“Front. Back. Back. Front.”
The strikingly dissimilar duo rhythmically patted each other’s hands in sync during the Seabees’ pause from laboring under the oppressive East African sun. The Djiboutian child’s smile mirrored that of his camouflage-clad friend who — minutes prior — was vigorously maneuvering mounds of the Arta region’s red, silty soil.
P’Pool is a member of Naval Mobile Construction Battalion 1, deployed to Combined Joint Task Force Horn of Africa here. She and other Navy engineers, also known as Seabees, are fabricating a medical clinic to serve the populace. Situated between a quaint school and makeshift dwellings housing a cluster of families, the clinic is slated to provide maternity and newborn care.
But the Seabees are doing more than building a structure. They’re building bonds.
“When we first got to the site, the kids were throwing rocks at us. They didn’t want us here,” P’Pool said. “But that doesn’t happen now. Now, they’re much more trusting and I think they even like seeing us here.”
In the weeks following the project’s revival on May 2, the rapport between military members and local civilians has seen a dramatic shift for the better. The change, P’Pool said, didn’t occur overnight. It took weeks.
Daily, the Seabees arrived to the job site and toiled for hours under cautious review of those around. Eventually, the trust of the local public developed alongside the construction site itself, personifying the growing bonds between the U.S. military members and the local people.
Combating Regional Terrorists
All task force members of support the U.S. Africa Command mission of countering transnational threats. A method of accomplishing this is by engaging with partners to deter, disrupt and deny violent extremist organizations in the region. By informally forging partnerships with the local population through friendly behavior, the Seabees are directly helping to deter the extremists’ recruitment practices.
“What we’re doing here could be looked at as antiterrorism measures in two ways,” said Navy Petty Officer 1st Class Patrice Young. “First, we are creating a structure that will help keep people healthy. A physically healthy community is going to be more capable in defending itself against acts of terror than one that is physically unable due to illness or disease.”
Young added, “Second, our presence and the way we conduct ourselves serves as proof of what we, as the U.S. military, stand for: we do not have to use weapons to be a force for good.”
Nurturing Partnership, Friendship
While both the facility and friendship continue to be nurtured, the regional public seems to be embracing the budding partnerships.
“At first, the kids were a little confused,” said Amin, a teacher at the school near the site. “But now they know what is going on, and they see how important it is to have the Americans here.”
Amin said he hopes his students grow to remember the positive activities of the U.S. military.
The Seabees share that sentiment.
“There’s a part of me that thinks, ‘Maybe if they’re ever approached by al-Shabab and have to make a decision to do right or wrong, they’ll think about us here,'” P’Pool said. “Maybe they’ll remember that we built this clinic for them. Or, they might just think about our friendship and make the choice to not participate in a [violent extremist organization].”