I decided to split up the month I spent in Djibouti into multiple posts. This is the third post of the series. Making one long post was just going to be way too long for people to read. Hopefully this has worked out as well as I had planned.
Living in Djibouti was difficult. As I said in one of the previous posts, being temporarily assigned to Djibouti was the most difficult time I have spent overseas thus far, and the toughest time mentally since my mom passed away in 2007. Luckily for me, the time of year was the best. The temperatures rarely got above 80’s, and the humidity was tolerable, meaning it was in the 70-80% range.
The temperature in Djibouti is about 15 degrees warmer than here in Bahrain, so it wasn’t such a harsh change. But I am still a California boy at heart and missed the cool air and beach weather. I explained to people in Washington that winter in California meant that we had to wait until noon to go to the beach instead of 9 a.m.
Djibouti is a forward operating base and as such, the military does not allow family members to accompany service members for their tours. Therefore, tours are limited to a year, and can be extended to 18 months. This was my first assignment that I was promoted to in 2012, prior to coming to Bahrain. Living in Djibouti is quite difficult. US military members, civilian workers, and most others reside on the base. Some contractors and some other foreign military reside out in town on the local economy.
Duty in Djibouti
I forgot to add that there is a youtube series called “Duty in Djibouti.” It is put out by the military and has some insight into the base. Click the link above for the videos and information on the base and its mission.
At every military base around the world, every morning when they raise the American flag, they play the national anthem. In foreign areas they play the local country’s anthem as well. Everything on the base stops. Cars pull over, everyone stands at attention (civilian and active duty), and for that time you pay respect. I love this part of the day. Being overseas, it is especially meaningful. I have a video of this, but it is taking forever to upload. I will put in another post.
Living in a CLU and life on base
Upon assignment to Djibouti you arrive at the billeting office where you are assigned either bed in a 16 man tent, a two man Containerized Living Unit (CLU), or a single person ‘CLU.’ The difference is that the tents and two man (or three man) CLU’s have a shared shower/bathroom facility and the single man CLU’s have the toilet and shower right in the CLU (although you share with the person on the other side of the CLU. The CLUs are lined up side by side. A night view of “CLUVILLE”
So a CLU is a 40’ long by 8’ wide shipping container. 2 and 3 man CLU’s are split up into separate beds for all the members, and the wet CLUs have 2 separate “apartments” with a bathroom in the middle. I was assigned to a 2 man CLU which is where I slept the first night in Djibouti. The rest of the time I took up residence in the single man wet CLU of the person I replaced.
As you can see, the CLU does have most of the comforts of home. A desk and chair, twin sized beds, and stand up lockers are what is provided. The TV, router, XBOX, and everything else is the property of the person who is currently assigned to that CLU. I was thankful he let me use his CLU. The A/C is running all the time and keeps the room nice and cool. I was actually freezing during the night.
The base has most of the amenities of home, in order to make life a little easier for everyone living and working there. There is a club/bar called 11 degrees north (11D), named after the location of the base which is 11 degrees north of the equator. There are two Green Beans Coffee shops which run 24/7, a chapel, an air conditioned (and pretty nice) gym with covered basketball and sand volleyball courts, small movie theater, the highest grossing Subway in the world, and of course our store. Little piece of home.
In the middle of the base is the dining facility (DFAC), which runs 24/7 but only serves hot food during certain hours. A sandwich bar and some food is served the rest of the time. Special meals are done throughout the week, steaks on Saturday and lobster/seafood on Friday. In the mornings omelets and eggs are cooked to order and the food is okaaaaaaaaaaayyyyyyyy. Ask everyone there and they say that it used to be a whole lot better.
In 2007, an armed forces tour came through Djibouti and an artist Thom Shepherd wrote a song. They still play the song every night and everyone joins in with their favorite drink. It is pretty great. If the video does not play, check here
My schedule was working 6 days a week, 10 hour days, most of which were filled with regular tasks in my job and a lot of those which typically are not. I adjusted to the position fairly well (or so I thought) and survived it. The difficult part was just being there. This journey has taken me to places I never thought I would go. Any type of trip to Africa was just a pipe dream if I ever even thought of trying to go.
The base had several activities going on for everyone to enjoy. We had our customer appreciation night, there was a Christmas 3k/5k fun run, a swim challenge, karaoke, a band came through and played, the CO and his staff served everyone holiday dinner, people joined to go caroling, and New Year’s celebrations as well. At every table were the cards sent from children around the U.S. The one where I ate was from a Girl Scout troupe in Massachusetts. If you have kids who do this, know that the cards do get to the forward bases and they really do mean a lot. I walked around and read some of the ones at the tables.
Trying to stay focused
I don’t mind being alone, and at times cherish the times I have by myself. This trip has been difficult for many reasons, many of which I have posted about before: Missing my family, not having closure on some things, adjusting to new jobs, figuring out new people and cultures etc. etc. etc. I have tried to figure out things the best I can, but spending Christmas and New Year’s in a confined space was almost the breaking point. I can feel why people in jail start to lose it. That is probably the closest I will ever feel to that experience. Yeah, there was TV and Xbox, but that gets old. I watched every episode of Rescue Me, and various other movies and TV shows. Sleep was rare. I don’t know if it was the malaria pills, or just the overall stress, but man did I have some vivid nightmares. Those were crazy.
Even with all of that, I made it through and work was fairly uneventful. I met some good people who live in Djibouti, and several who are stationed there from all parts of the U.S. It is always cool to meet those people around the world, and even though I am not active duty there is a special bond those who are deployed overseas make. Nobody who hasn’t lived this can understand what we are going through.
I lived through three weeks in Africa even though I felt like it would kill me. I wish I had more adventurous stories, but it was work work work and just back to my CLU. I worked through it and returned to Bahrain in one piece. I can only think of all those who are there for longer and take the chance that their job puts them in danger of not coming home. I met people who were missing families for another Christmas, and those who couldn’t speak of what their duties actually were. It was another part of why I am happy to do the job I do and support those who serve. Supporting the warfighter at the tip of the spear. An amazing experience for sure. I would go back in a heartbeat.
My flight back to Bahrain at the end of the journey was over two days. I left Sunday at 11 a.m. and finally returned to my villa the next morning at 4 a.m. Exhausted was just the beginning. It took me more than a week to fully adjust to being back here. I am still not fully adjusted to being over here at all.
5 months down.
Thanks for reading!