U.S. Army Spc. Tiffany Larriba held her hands in front of her, fingers closed, as children from Karabti San, Djibouti, waited in eager anticipation Jan. 3.
Suddenly, Larriba smiled and raised six fingers.
“Six,” the children exclaimed in unison.
This was the children’s second exposure to learning the English language through a program Larriba, a team member with the U.S. Army Civil Affairs Team 4902, 490th Civil Affairs Battalion and Dallas, Texas, native, calls: “Soldier in the Classroom.” The program broadens the horizons of the children, while giving them a long-lasting memory of their relationship with U.S. soldiers. Karabti San is the first village to experience the program, which was introduced Nov. 29. Larriba said she hopes to see “Soldier in the Classroom” introduced in other villages throughout Djibouti.
“We wanted the kids to remember us for something good,” she said. “So we came up with this project where we go to schools or villages and teach some lesson they can’t learn anywhere else. It’s simple enough that the students understand, but yet it helps open their mind and leaves a standing memory.”
Just as Karabti San is the first Djiboutian village to receive eco-dome materials and construction training from the Combined Joint Task Force – Horn of Africa, it is also the first place to experience “Soldier in the Classroom.” Larriba hopes the participation she sees here will extend to other villages.
“They are all involved in it,” she said. “Every kid [in the village], young or old, all came. They wanted to come. They made some pretty good progress.”
According to Larriba, who is affectionately referred to by the children as “Lorouba,” which means “cowgirl” in Somali, the progress will provide these children with opportunities previously unavailable.
“[We want to] help them see there is a big world out there and a lot of opportunities,” she said. “That’s our goal.”
The children are not the only ones learning from this program. Larriba said her outlook on life has changed dramatically since coming to Africa and interacting with the local population. She hopes her friends and family back home will see the change in her and embrace it themselves.
“You can be happy with the smallest things, she said. “This village, for example, they’re happy. You can live without a lot of things and still be happy.”
Larriba said the happiness she shared with the children of Karabti San is compounded and reinforced with each new lesson, with every new number learned.
“It was good. I liked it all,” said Mohamed Bourito, a student in the program. “We practice what Lorouba has taught us. After I learn the English language, I want to go to the school. I want to continue my education.”
Bourito smiled broadly after sharing his dream for the future. He held up his hands and repeated what he had learned only minutes ago, from Larriba. Slowly, but surely, he counted to ten – in English.
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Beyond the pride one carries by simply being a member in today’s all-volunteer U.S. military, there is no greater honor for a service member than accomplishing a challenge in an expeditionary environment, especially when that achievement is normally accomplished by a different branch than the one you serve.
This statement holds especially true when attached in support of Combined Joint Task Force–Horn of Africa, a forward-deployed base comprised of airmen, sailors, soldiers and Marines, all sharing in the responsibility of strengthening defense capabilities and stability in the region.
On Sept. 28, U.S. Air Force Senior Airman Grace Enriquez, a native of Baguio City in the Philippines, became the first non-Navy service member assigned to CJTF-HOA to receive the Navy Expeditionary Warfare Badge. The award of the warfare device, first introduced Navy-wide in 2006, attests to a sailor’s proficiency of combat tactics, expeditionary fundamentals and core Navy knowledge. At CJTF-HOA only 79 sailors have received this pin since it was re-introduced in April of 2011. The distinction and honor of wearing the device is now shared by an airman here.
“Being in a diverse unit and a joint environment showcases many interesting bits of tradition from the Air Force, Navy, Army and the Marine Corps,” said Enriquez. “I felt this was a fascinating part of Navy culture and I really wanted to be a part of it.”
The EXW badge is not an easy device to achieve. To begin this process, a service member must make a special request through their chain of command. After being approved and committing to complete the necessary training and qualifications, prospects must complete Personal Qualifications Standards of core Navy knowledge, unit-specific corps training and practical knowledge of communication radios. After passing a written exam and practical exercise with a M16A2 semi-automatic rifle and Portable Radio Communication series field radios, there are two oral boards among peers to test all EXW knowledge.
Enriquez’s decision to achieve the EXW device did not go unnoticed among her co-workers.
“Here at CJTF-HOA, we are faced with a unique mission and an opportunity to work closely with all services, militaries, coalition partners and civilians,” said U.S. Navy Master Chief Petty Officer Josh Hildreth, Enriquez’s senior enlisted leader. “By Enriquez embracing that jointness and stepping up to the challenge of completing a Navy-centric warfare qualification, I believe that she has set a new standard here. With that, perhaps she has inspired others to follow in her path to have a better understanding of our mission as a whole and how each service is part of that mission.”
Enriquez was not alone in the pursuit of the warfare device. Her shop supervisor, U.S. Navy Petty Officer 1st Class Adam Haupt, an electronics technician, studied and tested alongside Enriquez and was awarded the badge at the same time.
“I’m ecstatic for her,” said Haupt. “There was no doubt, even early on, that she had the necessary study habits down. She definitely made the Air Force – and all of us – proud.”
Enriquez’s impact at CJTF-HOA goes beyond the EXW device. Day to day, she shares responsibility for ensuring vital communications equipment is functional and ready for any mission. When the workday is over, she doesn’t simply go home for the day; she volunteers at multiple locations in the Djibouti City area.
“We are guests of Djibouti and it’s important that we give back to our hosts,” said Enriquez. “I find it to be a very rewarding experience. The most important part of volunteering is loving what you do for others.”
Enriquez spends time weekly caring for orphaned babies at a church in Djibouti City, and she also teaches English three days a week to Djiboutian students, policemen, and members of the Japanese military.
She began teaching English at her home station at Misawa Air Base, Japan, where she is a communications specialist with the 35th Communications Squadron. She began working with the Japanese two years ago, when she decided she wanted to learn Japanese. Members of the Japan’s military offered to teach her Japanese in exchange for English lessons.
By day, Enriquez ensures smooth communications, and when the workday is through, she selflessly donates her time to help others. Now, she holds to her name the first non-sailor to achieve an Expeditionary Warfare Device, setting the bar for others at CJTF-HOA to step up and go the extra mile.
Story by Senior Airman Kaitlyn Johnson
An Air Force officer deployed here employs her ability to speak French to communicate with local Djiboutians and with other international partners throughout eastern Africa.
Capt. Sylvia Kim speaks fluent French, one of the official languages of Djibouti and a dominant language throughout the African continent. Realizing her skill could benefit Combined Joint Task Force-Horn of Africa, Kim volunteered for her current position as medical planner for the Joint Operations Directorate with CJTF-HOA.
“The knowledge of the language has been essential [while deployed to CJTF-HOA],” Kim said. “French and Arabic are the official languages in Djibouti, French being the operational language. It’s been essential in communicating and networking with the local Djiboutians and the camp staff and also imperative with correspondence with the Djiboutian government.”
Kim accomplishes much of the official correspondence translation for the task force commander as well as translating presentations.
Not only does Kim use her talent at work, she also shares her knowledge as a basic French language course instructor on Camp Lemonnier in her free time.
“Captain Kim is well organized, inspirational and a patient teacher,” said Navy Lt. Kittima Boonsirisermsook, the camp dental officer and one of Captain Kim’s French students. “Most of us [students] had hardly ever spoken a word of French before our first class. We were given a lot of class material, a lot of instruction, repetition and practice.”
During the course, Kim talked of her time in France, which helped motivate the students, Boonsirisermsook said. She also encouraged the students to talk with Djiboutians on base to brighten their day and show interest in local culture.
A Los Angeles native, Kim began speaking French at a young age because it was a school requirement to learn a foreign language. But by choice, she continued to learn the language, eventually double-majoring in philosophy and French while at the University of California Los Angeles and spending her senior year of study abroad at the prestigious Sorbonne University in Paris.
Kim joined the Air Force in December 2005 after working eight years in the international affairs arena because of her love of travel and the numerous overseas opportunities the military offered.
“Apart from my year in France, I’ve worked in Hungary, Slovakia, Morocco and Yemen and language has been imperative in each foreign country and I’m happy to learn, share my knowledge, and build lasting partnerships and relationships,” she said. “In my previous positions, I found that language was the key to furthering partnerships and getting somewhere with my official duties.”
During her Air Force career, Kim has been stationed in the Washington area at both Bolling and Andrews Air Force bases. She then spent a year at Osan Air Base, South Korea, and is currently home-stationed in Geilenkirchen, Germany.
While in Korea, Kim used another language skill set to do her job as the Tricare operations and patient administration flight commander.
“I probably spoke Korean 80 percent of my day building partnerships with Korean hospitals where we were sending our patients for higher echelons of care,” Kim said.
Kim grew up in a Korean household where her parents did not speak English or French. However, she now considers her French-speaking abilities to be stronger than her Korean.
Kim also has taken basic language courses in Spanish, Mandarin, German and Arabic.
“It bothers me if I’m not able to communicate in the language of the country I am in,” she said. “As soon as I arrived at Camp Lemonnier, our Egyptian liaison officer was offering a basic Arabic course and I enrolled in that right away.”
When Kim completes her deployment to CJTF-HOA she will return to Germany. However, she dreams of future assignments.
“My dream is to move on to U.S. Africa Command and stay within this sphere of amazing work and amazing partnerships that we are creating throughout CJTF-HOA and the continent of Africa,” she said.
With their lives filled with hardships and nomadic living, the people of the remote Djiboutian desert village Ali Oune welcome the help of a U.S. Army Civil Affairs team. But on one particular recent visit, CA teams from the 478 and 418 Battalion, accompanied by other U.S. service members, left a particularly lasting impression with the villagers.
It was the debut of a new photo project, which enabled the villager’s picture to be taken, printed on site with a battery-powered, high-quality printer, and presented on photo paper with a goodwill message on the backside—all within a few moments of it being taken.
No one knew exactly how the people would respond. Although CA teams have built a rapport with the village, the scheduled visit was originally focused on movie night—a time to watch an American-made, action movie powered by a generator. The photography started while the movie projector was being set up and members of the CA team played soccer with the Djiboutians.
Many avoided the cameras because they fear the worst. “At first they were hesitant,” said U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Wayne Teegardin, 478 CA team sergeant. “They are scared that taking that photo means we might take that person away.”
With the help of an interpreter and Village Chief Djama Said Guedi, the first picture was taken. Moments later, the photo was handed to the chief. More than 100 children and their parents watched in wonder to see what was going on. More photos were printed of families.
According to Guedi, the people’s main method of seeing what they look like is the identification cards they have as Djibouti citizens. This is the first visual record. “Ali Oune has no mirrors,” he explained. “The photos make the village feel better. It is like having a soccer game or a movie night. It’s a good thing for the village. It reunites them.”
The expressions and mood of many of the Ali Oune residents turned noticeably from wonder to excitement. Within an hour, dozens of families and children received photographs, each with a sticker of the U.S. and Djibouti flags side-by-side on the back.
“It gives them a keepsake. It gives them something back,” said U.S. Army Maj. Michael Guiles, CA team leader for Charlie Company, 418 Battalion. “I explained to the headmaster of the school, that it’s something we do in America. We take pictures of our kids. That way we have a memory of our children as they grow up…when you can give somebody something back that’s immediate, that’s a nice relationship builder. It opens up new avenues of communication. A picture’s worth a thousand words,” Guiles said.
As dusk settled in, the villagers gathered in one of their few buildings—an open room with tables and chairs—to watch Ninja Assassin on the wall.
Ultimately the action in Ninja Assassin was unable to defeat the new photos. The normally packed movie room lost the majority of its audience, who chose to watch the printer and get their photos instead. They returned to the movie when it became too dark to continue printing.
“I know what a photograph means to me when I have one taken of my family or my self, so I figured this has to really mean something to these people who may have never even seen a camera before, or a photo of themselves,” said U.S. Navy Petty Officer 1st Class Larry Foos, who introduced the program. “With this new portable technology, I thought it might be a great way to give them something they’ll hold onto for years, and help them remember we’re their friends. Maybe that’ll help them not be swayed to thinking something else as they grow older.”
The 478 and 418 CA Battalions are attached to Combined Joint Task Force-Horn of Africa, which has an overall mission to help East African countries improve their stability and increase their security. The U.S. Command works in partnership with the U.S. Embassy and U.S. Agency for International Development to Djibouti to assist in health and education.
Situated less than 10 miles from the Somalian border, the village is made up of about 500 Somalian and Ethiopian nomad people, who originated from the nearby mountain ranges. They settled in Ali One about eight years ago with the discovery of water. The buildings were added in 2008. The village is about 15 miles from Camp Lemonnier, home to CJTF-HOA, making it an important place to build relations, especially because it is near the porous border of Somalia.
It is believed the on-location photos will go a long way to building long term relationships and shaping the attitudes of the people—at least in Ali Oune. The program is considered a success and the 418 CA Team plans to acquire more printers and expand the program.
Story by: Petty Officer 1st Class Larry Foos, Staff Sgt. Robert Barnett
Volunteers from Camp Lemonnier spent time playing sports, making beaded bracelets and necklaces, coloring pictures and handing out shoes to students at the Guelleh Battal school in Djibouti, Feb. 13.
The 50 volunteers who went out to this school are known as the Community Assistance Volunteers or CAV; this is the second time they’ve gone to the Guelleh Battal school to spend time with the children.
Mahamed Ahmed Abdillahi, Camp Lemonnier’s Community Relations advisor, thinks CAV is a program beneficial to both the Djiboutians and the volunteers.
“From a Djiboutian perspective this is an important organization,” said Abdillahi. “It makes the people of Djibouti aware of the American presence, and shows them that Americans are here for stability, peace and development. That includes helping the community.”
Volunteer work like this, is one that transcends the language and culture barrier that often hinder American and local relations.
“The relationship we’re building with these projects is one that breaks the language barrier. Through art and sport there is a type of communication that’s just as powerful and important as spoken word. That’s what we’ve created here.” said Abdillahi.
U.S. Navy Petty Officer Second Class Jerrod Jerrolds, CAV board member, hopes the children, whose ages ranged from five to 12, will enjoy the donations and time spent with the service members.
“These kids don’t have the same things we (U.S. service members) had growing up,” said Jerrolds. “So we’re here trying to help the community by giving out necessities and dedicating some of our time to the students.”
For each member of CAV, the reason for volunteering is different, for CAV event leader U.S. Navy Second Class Petty Officer Norman Otters, it gives him a chance to work with the community and have some stress-free fun with the kids.
“It’s all about engaging with the kids and building better relations with the local community all while having fun,” said Otters. “Being on camp can make some service members feel stressed, but when you come and play with the kids and you see their smiling faces, you can’t help but feel good and have a good time.”
As CAV’s role continues to grow in the community, Otters’ ambitions grow with it.
“This school here (Guelleh Battal) has a garden club, where students can work the ground and grow their own food,” said Otters. “We’re looking to get involved with that as well, purchasing some seeds and soil and trying to help their club grow. We also plan on visiting the local orphanages and maternity centers to help in any way that we can.”
At the end of the day, it’s about helping the local community to become better than it was before.
“It makes you feel good spending time with the kids and helping the community,” said Jerrolds. “Anyone can sacrifice a few hours, and the feeling you get from their smiles is one that is priceless.”
Story by Petty Officer 3rd Class Tyler Wilson