Monday, February 26, 2007

Farewell Djibouti

Before leaving Djibouti, Kristin, Malcolm and I had a chance to wander around the city center. The market was crowded, loud, and colorful.

This fruit seller runs one of hundreds of kiosks in the large market.

Djibouti has become infamous for the amount of khat, a hallucinogenic plant, the people there consume. We were in the market when the day's supply of khat was delivered. While some dealers were adamant that we not take photographs, we found person willing to let us get this shot.

Here is our field production team, Keith Porter, Kristin McHugh, and Malcolm Brown standing just inside the main entry to Camp Lemonier in Djibouti.

--Keith Porter

Saturday, February 24, 2007

Working Together for the Benefit of All

Elementary School #2 in Tadjoura feels like a very happy place... despite the dusty, sandy grounds, the spartan buildings, and the deep poverty.

The classes, conducted in French, are full of smiling children. There is a computer lab here for training teachers in the region. The equipment came from the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID).

The lunch room was gutted and renovated by the U.S. military.

And the storeroom contains bags of food donated by the United States, Saudi Arabia, and the World Food Programme.

We've learned a lot in the last few days about the military's development efforts here in the Horn of Africa. So it was nice to spend this day visiting a school and health clinic with USAID's country coordinator for Djibouti, Janet Schulman.

One of the most controversial areas I want to examine on this trip is the good and bad of having the U.S. military engaged in development and diplomacy work normally associated with agencies like the State Department and USAID. The military clearly has the resources and command structure to make a lot of things happen on the ground... and fast.

Some worry, however, that the new roles could degrade the military's traditional defense capabilities. Others are afraid the military's new efforts will lack cultural context and sensitivity and won't be integrated with other parts of U.S. and international development efforts.

But Janet Schulman has nothing but good things to say about what the Combined Joint Task Force-Horn of Africa is doing in Djibouti.

"The military has always had a civilian affairs unit. And rather than have them roaming around the country willy-nilly, constructing things that may or may not be useful and may or may not be a priority for the community, I think us [military and USAID] coming together, planning together, and executing projects together is to the benefit of all," she said.

Schulman adds, "They [the Djiboutians] are growing to trust Americans."

--Keith Porter

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Build It And They Will Come

After nearly three hours of driving, we suddenly found ourselves standing on a narrow dirt path seemingly in the middle of nowhere. The well-worn path, surrounded by breathtaking mountains, desert landscape, and a small oasis, is not new. It has been used for thousands of years by animals and nomads traveling from Ethiopia through Djibouti.

Adjacent to the trail is a small slice of modern technology; an open concrete cistern connected to a faulty water pump.

Eastern Africa has long been considered a breeding ground for terrorists and terror activities. Strategic military strikes on Somalia earlier this year briefly earned headlines, but America's efforts to undermine terrorist organizations in this region go far beyond traditional warfare. Today, in this remote patch of land somewhere east of the Ethiopian border, members of the 1132nd Army Well Drilling Team from Mooresville, North Carolina, are doing their part to fight the global war on terror: they are checking the coordinates and status of the water well. It is scheduled to be rehabilitated in a few months.

The well was originally built to capture the hot trickles of water that bubble from a nearby natural oasis. Like the baseball infield carved out of a cornfield in the movie, The Field of Dreams, the water is a magnet for nomads and animals in an otherwise parch desert. But the water in the oasis is contaminated by the animals; leading to frequent cholera outbreaks.

First Sergeant William Robert Brown believes repairing the well is a "preemptive strike" that will help keep stability in an area that is vulnerable to extremist activity and influence.

--Kristin McHugh

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

The Chaplain's Bodyguard

U.S. Navy RP3 Nathaniel Young is the kind of American I love meeting overseas: energetic, enthusiastic, and full of hope about what is possible in the world.

Young served on the USS Comstock in the Iraq War, but now he is waging a different kind of warfare. He wants to teach a new generation of Muslim children in the Horn of Africa that Americans are the good guys.

The chaplain corps and staff here at Camp Lemonier and the larger Combined Joint Task Force-Horn of Africa have adopted a couple of local orphanages in Djibouti. They have raised thousands of dollars and organized uncountable volunteer hours from soldiers, sailors, airmen, and Marines to help out at the orphanage.

Talking to us on a dirt soccer field full of orphans and American military personnel, Young describes himself as "the chaplain's bodyguard." His rank, RP3, means he is one of the Navy's Religion Program Specialists. He plays soccer and basketball with the boys in this orphanage at least once a week, and he brings a van full of volunteers from Camp Lemonier with him each time.

The faces of the kids here beam from the attention they receive in this program. But none shines more brightly than the smile of RP3 Young.
--Keith Porter

Monday, February 19, 2007

Speaking English, Making Friends

Talk to just about everyone in the command structure at Camp Lemonier and you will quickly learn one of the main core missions of the Combined Joint Task Force-Horn of Africa (CJTF-HOA) is, "helping Africans help Africa."

Dozens of CJTF-HOA programs (some officially organized and others volunteer) from well digging to pick-up basketball games at a local boy’s orphanage reinforce this message. We witnessed a small taste Sunday night.

Once a week, roughly half-a-dozen CJTF-HOA volunteers wearing civilian clothing pile into a small van and make their way to the Horn of Africa School of Language for an evening of interaction with students known as the "English Discussion Group” or EDG.

The school, situated about two blocks from a main thoroughfare, is a crumbling concrete building with three cramped classrooms. Students in this private school are learning English. On this night, approximately 20 male and female advanced students ranging in age from 14-to-20, participate in the EDG to improve their language skills by having direct interaction with Americans.

Each discussion is organized around a topic. Sunday night's topic: women in sports. For 90 minutes, a spirited discussion between the students and the men and women from CJTF-HOA takes place.

90 minutes is certainly not enough time to bridge the American-Djiboutian cultural divide. But it is just enough time for the CJTF-HOA members to present the friendly face of America.

The short interaction also provides immediate results for the students of the Horn of Africa School of Language. When we returned to our hotel after the EDG, one of the night clerks greeted us in perfect English as he thanked us for attending his class earlier in the evening.

--Kristin McHugh

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Camp Lemonade

The base is called Camp Lemonier, a name given by the French Foreign Legion when they owned the place. Regardless of what a Francophone would say, troops here pronounce it as Camp "Lemonade" but without the "d" on the end. And they do jokingly refer to it sometimes as Camp Lemonade.

Our tour of the base started with a climb to the top of a watch tower (no pictures allowed there) where we could see the scope of the base, as well as the outlines of its planned expansion. Most soldiers, sailors, airmen, and Marines based here live in large, 16-person tents. Stay here long enough and you may move up to a tiny, mobile-home like, container living unit--referred to as a CLU by the acronym lovers here. From the watchtower we could see hundreds of new CLUs ready to be opened in hopes of moving most people out of the tents.

The camp has a chapel, cantina, dining hall, PX, cinema, gym, and other facilties. The central path, known as Broadway, feels a little like the main street of Small Town, U.S.A. And the "mayor" is Camp Commander Robert Fahey.

Although this is a "Joint Task Force" base, the command structure of Camp Lemonier is Navy. Captain Fahey compares the installation to the Navy's sprawling Jacksonville Naval Air Station. Even though the base is on what the Navy refers to as "shore," a number of signs on base remind you about the rules for doing this or that "while aboard Camp Lemonier."

As interesting as things are "aboard" the camp, the real story is the unique work being done out of here by the Combined Joint Task Force-Horn of Africa. More on that to come.

--Keith Porter

Saturday, February 17, 2007

First Report from Djibouti

One team of reporters for Beyond Fear is already in the field. Keith Porter reports from Djibouti in the Horn of Africa.

After a long transit through a Midwest snowstorm, Paris, and Ethiopia, we are in Djibouti to report for the documentary "Beyond Fear: America's Role in an Uncertain World." Kristin McHugh, Malcolm Brown, and I were met at the airport by public affairs staffers from Camp Lemonier: Captain Tony Wickham of the U.S. Air Force and Master Chief Petty Officer Eric Clementof the U.S. Navy.

Later, a number of leaders from the base met us at the hotel for dinner... including the new commander of Combined Joint Task Force-Horn of Africa (CJTF-HOA), Rear Admiral James Hart.

This morning, Captain Wickham and his boss, Major David Malakoff picked us up at the hotel. Then we had to clear some very thorough security bythe Marine guards at the gate to Camp Lemonier... home to 1,700 U.S.military personnel.

We started with a briefing attended by two admirals, a number of colonels, the State Department representative, a civilian Defense Department consultant, and others. We later learned that because the camp is transitioning in a new leadership team, this was the first briefing this group had given to outsiders visiting the camp.

So far, the place seems pretty amazing. The mission here is to fight terrorism with what most people would call basic human kindness. They want to promote stability in the region by providing humanitarian assistance and kick-starting economic development. The goal is to take away the fertile soil for terrorist recruiting by digging wells, building schools, and providing services (like medical and veterinary care).

The personnel here are enthusiastic about the results. In fact, the most repeated sentiment in our first day of interviews is that they find this to be the most rewarding work they have ever done.

Soon, we will head out into the field to see some of the projects in action.

--Keith Porter

Friday, February 16, 2007

Coming Soon From the Stanley Foundation: "Beyond Fear: America's Role in an Uncertain World"

The Stanley Foundation and KQED Public Radio announce a new radio documentary project "Beyond Fear: America's Role in an Uncertain World." The documentary is scheduled for release in spring 2007.

Every day the latest headlines reflect a world filled with fear.

Terrorism, war, disaster, and disease are grim realities brought closer to home in our increasingly connected world. And, they ultimately shape America's national security and foreign policies.

But fear itself cannot drive our daily lives.

"Beyond Fear: America's Role in an Uncertain World" goes beyond the headlines with expert insight and field reporting from Africa, Asia, and Europe and explores new scenarios for US global leadership built on common action, trust, and hope.

David Brancaccio, host and editor of the PBS weekly series NOW, hosts and reports for the special one-hour broadcast. "Beyond Fear: America's Role in an Uncertain World" is produced by Simon Marks, Kristin McHugh, and Keith Porter.

"Beyond Fear: America's Role in an Uncertain World" is a Stanley Foundation production in association with KQED Public Radio.

About the Stanley Foundation
The Stanley Foundation brings fresh voices, original ideas, and lasting solutions to debates on global and regional problems. It is a nonpartisan, private operating foundation that focuses primarily on peace and security issues and advocates principled multilateralism.

The Stanley Foundation often works collaboratively with other organizations. It does not make grants. Online at