13th MEU(SOC) Marines wield paint brushes, knock out civil assistance projects in Djibouti

20 Nov 2003 | SSgt. April D. Tuggle 13th Marine Expeditionary Unit

Paint brushes took the place of rifles in the hands of more than 40 Battalion Landing Team 1/1 Marines and Sailors who participated in civic assistance projects in two Djiboutian towns recently.

The 13th Marine Expeditionary Unit (Special Operations Capable) ground combat element Marines ashore in Djibouti worked with Djiboutian locals and Army personnel from Combined Joint Task Force-Horn of Africa's Charlie Company, 478th Civil Affairs (Special Operations) in the towns of Tadjoura, a coastal town about 150 kilometers from here, and Obock, more than 200 kilometers away, to paint a regional hospital and primary school.  The two sites are part of ongoing civil assistance operations being conducted by the Miami-based Army reserve unit in the CJTF-HOA region.

"We focus on comprehensive repair and renovation of clinics and schools in the region," said Maj. Ralph Engeler, C Co., 478th commander.  "Painting is important for both appearance and longevity of the buildings we work on." 

The civil affairs unit sets up the projects, which usually take about four to six weeks to complete.  Local contractors are generally hired to do the majority of the work, but the painting is usually a joint effort between the locals and military personnel who work on the site, according to Engeler. 

The scope of these two paint projects was larger than the available manpower at the sites and was not a part of the work contracted to the locals so additional people were needed, Engeler said.  The Marine volunteers provided the additional manpower required.

The 12 Marines who painted the school in Obock worked with 10 locals to complete the project in two days, according to Engeler.  The Tadjoura hospital, the regional medical facility for that area of Djibouti, had locals working to complete the construction being done at the site as the Marines were painting. 

The projects provided more than work for the Marines who participated. 

The Marines stayed in a small beach hotel in Tadjoura and on cots at the beach in Obock, which gave them the chance to interact with the townspeople even after the work was done each day.  They also had an opportunity to swim at the beach near each site and eat at a local restaurant for several meals.

"I got to help other people, and I got to get out and see a little bit more than Camp Lemonier in Djibouti," said Sgt. Zebulan W. Moore, 3rd squad leader, 2nd Platoon, Alpha Company, BLT 1/1.  "I saw a village in the middle of nowhere and their day-to-day life."

"I wanted to see the country, get to know some local people.  This was a great opportunity to see parts of the world I'll probably never see again," said LCpl. Sean A. Cannon, one of the Marines in Moore's squad who worked on the hospital in Tadjoura.

"I thought it would be a good thing for the squad to do together," said Moore, who signed his entire squad up to participate in the Tadjoura project that lasted from November 11 to 14.

"It was a really good experience.  My main goal was to help the locals out and we got to do that," said Moore.  "We don't get to do that often, help out in a community, when we go ashore for training."

"I think we gave the people a good impression of United States Marines," said Moore.  "We've assisted in opening up a hospital that will help the people."  

13th MEU Marines ashore in Djibouti will conduct training through November and return to their ships to continue their scheduled deployment, currently expected to return to Camp Pendleton in late spring 2004.

For additional information about the 13th MEU (SOC), view the official website at www.13meu.usmc.mil.

13th Marine Expeditionary Unit