Tag Archives: Camp Lemonnier

Camp Lemonnier offers NCOs joint, coalition development opportunities

By JONATHAN (JAY) KOESTER
NCO Journal

With its strategic location in the Horn of Africa, Camp Lemonnier in Djibouti is an important part of the U.S. military’s efforts to combat terrorism in the Mideast and East Africa. In fact, Camp Lemonnier became the first and only U.S. installation on the continent of Africa shortly after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

The camp’s unique place on the African continent provides NCOs deployed there opportunities found at few other places.

Sgt. Maj. John Hilton is serving in Djibouti as an embedded liaison officer for the Center for Army Lessons Learned. He had simple advice for NCOs wondering why they might be sent to Djibouti and why it’s an important mission.

“I would tell them to take a look at the map and figure it out,” Hilton said. “Typically, if they have been in the military for some time, they have some smarts and they’ll see that Somalia is right under them; Yemen is right next to them. The strait right off the coast is the second-busiest shipping lane on the planet. So you have that strategic location that is in the nation’s best interest to be here.”

Graphic by Spc. James Seals / NCO Journal
Graphic by Spc. James Seals / NCO Journal

Hilton said Camp Lemonnier is a great place for U.S. Army NCOs to get joint experience with the other services, as well as with coalition forces.

“What they can expect is not what they experienced in Iraq or Afghanistan,” he said. “This is unlike any of their previous deployments. Expect that you are going to get joint experience. Whether you come over here to work on a joint staff or you’re an infantry squad leader in a battalion over here, you are going to be working with the other services by default.

“Expect that you are going to engage with at least the coalition forces and the Djiboutian forces,” Hilton said. “And chances are you’ll engage with the forces of one of the countries in our area of responsibility. So come over here with a mindset that you are going to be a trainer, to some degree, in addition to what you were sent here for.”

Those training missions end up giving NCOs an important opportunity to influence countries in the area, Hilton said.
“You are going to be the face of the United States,” he said. “If you are a medic, for instance, and there is a mission to train the medics in Burundi, you may be the only U.S. person a Burundian medic ever sees in his life. You literally are the face of the United States to some of these people. So you have to expect that what you do here will have a strategic influence.”

An assignment to Camp Lemonnier is also different because it is a combat deployment — to a garrison environment.

“This is a hybrid environment,” Hilton said. “Yes, it is a combat deployment. Yes, there is a threat, whether it’s kinetic or not, outside the gate. But inside the walls of Camp Lemonnier, this is a garrison environment. You have to be able to ‘flip the switch.’ If you’ve never operated in a garrison environment before — I mean the lifelong National Guardsman or Reservist who has never been in charge of Soldiers in a garrison environment — you are going to have a steep learning curve when you get here.”

Joint opportunities

With the Army, Navy, Air Force and Marine Corps all sharing space on Camp Lemonnier, creative NCOs can find lots of joint professional development opportunities that would be hard to find elsewhere. One of those opportunities for junior enlisted is the Joint Corporals Leadership Development Course.

The course is designed for junior enlisted Marines preparing to be small unit leaders. But in Djibouti, members of all four services volunteer to take part in the course. The content and difficulty of the course doesn’t change, despite the participants from the other services being volunteers who won’t get official credit for the course.

Army Spc. Jerileigh Bouchard, civil information management analyst with the 403rd Civil Affairs Battalion, was one of those who volunteered for the course recently. She said she found the course useful despite a focus on the Marines.

U.S. Army Spc. Jerileigh Bouchard, a student in the Joint Corporals Leadership Development Course, lifts a weighted ammunition can during a combat fitness test in March on Camp Lemonnier, Djibouti. (Photo by Air Force Tech. Sgt. Daniel DeCook)
U.S. Army Spc. Jeileigh Bouchard, a student in the Joint Corporals Leadership Development Course, lifts a weighted ammunition can during a combat fitness test in March on Camp Lemonnier, Djibouti. (Photo by Air Force Tech. Sgt. Daniel DeCook)

“We learned a lot about basic warrior tasks,” Bouchard said. “We learned a lot about the history of the Marine Corps and how the Marine Corps works. It was really nice to see how another branch sees things and how they do things. Some of their tactical movements are a little different than what we do, so it was good to see that other perspective and just add it to my tool box.

“Even though I’m not in the Marines, it was helpful because we discussed leadership skills,” she said. “We had a public speaking thing. We had a land navigation course. We did physical training every morning, so there was a lot to take from it — not just Marine stuff.”

Bouchard said she enjoyed meeting members of the other military services during the course. It was her first experience working jointly.

“I had never really interacted with anybody who was in the other services prior to this class, except for my personal friends,” she said. “On an operational level, I hadn’t seen how the Navy or the Air Force or the Marines do their thing. I’d always been ‘Army, Army, Army,’ so it’s definitely different to see all these people working together.”

Army Spc. Nathan Sullivan, civil affairs specialist with the 403rd Civil Affairs Battalion, also successfully made it through the course. Both Sullivan and Bouchard said the physical training test they had to take at the beginning of the course wasn’t as bad as they expected — but the combat fitness test administered later was a different matter.

“The PT test was easier than I thought it would be,” Sullivan said. “Just different: I’m not used to doing pull-ups. The combat fitness test, however, was a lot harder than I expected it to be. That was a smoker. After we were done doing that, I was ready to go to bed.”

Sullivan said one of the main things he got from the course was inspiration.

“There is a lot of passion there in the Marines, and the leadership was giving us that passion during the course, even though we weren’t Marines,” he said. “Taking that passion and using it in the Army is something I hope to take with me.”

A student in the Joint Corporals Leadership Development Course takes the opening physical training test in March on Camp Lemonnier, Djibouti. (Photo by Air Force Tech. Sgt. Daniel DeCook)
A student in the Joint Corporals Leadership Development Course takes the opening physical training test in March on Camp Lemonnier, Djibouti. (Photo by Air Force Tech. Sgt. Daniel DeCook)

Bouchard said the course gave her a greater understanding of what is required of a leader. That preparation should help her eventually become an NCO.

“It helps you understand why leaders do what they do,” she said. “As a junior Soldier, I’m sure I’ve questioned something that an NCO told me, or wondered why they did it the way they did it. It helps you see where they are coming from and why they do it the way they do it. It definitely helped me think like a leader rather than as a junior Soldier.”

Senior enlisted opportunities

Camp Lemonnier offers plenty of professional development opportunities for senior enlisted Soldiers, as well. One recent effort is the Joint Forces Senior Enlisted Leader Professional Development Course, which is a coalition-focused mentoring and profession development session. Participants, in addition to members of the U.S. military, have been enlisted soldiers from Djibouti, Japan, Italy and Germany.

“It’s typically a half a day every other month,” Hilton said. “We learn the history and culture of each other’s armed forces. We learn what their noncommissioned officer rank structure is like, their NCO education system, what military life is like for them. We learn their capabilities, what their mission is here in Djibouti, and we start building those relationships.

“It’s led to mutual support between us,” Hilton said. “For instance, recently the U.S. Navy Seabees here on base assisted the Italians with some maintenance issues on one of their bigger trucks that they didn’t have the equipment for. It has increased that interoperability, coordination and cooperation.”

Senior enlisted Soldiers are also heavily involved in reaching out to the other countries in the Horn of Africa, Hilton said. They have participated in two engagements with the Kenyan military, and one with the Rwandan military. Future engagements are planned in Burundi, Uganda and Tanzania.

“The main focus is to show them how we use our NCOs,” he said. “Typically, we’ll go to their country first, for an initial meet and greet, get a tour of their training centers and things like that. Then we will bring them to Camp Lemonnier for two days.”

On the first morning of the engagement, the African countries’ senior enlisted soldiers receive a series of briefs. After introductions, the briefs are conducted by U.S. junior enlisted Soldiers.

Sgt. Maj. John Hilton is serving in Djibouti as an embedded liaison officer for the Center for Army Lessons Learned. (Photo by Jonathan (Jay) Koester / NCO Journal)
Sgt. Maj. John Hilton is serving in Djibouti as an embedded liaison officer for the Center for Army Lessons Learned. (Photo by Jonathan (Jay) Koester / NCO Journal)

“The main focus is the role of the NCO within the joint staff,” Hilton said. “What their responsibilities are, what their daily duties are, how they manage their sections. That’s not something that you typically see in another country’s military, the use of NCOs as staff members. So we try to showcase how we use our junior enlisted, our NCOs.”

The second morning, the engagement focuses on specific problems of the attending country. They will often receive briefs on how the U.S. military handles things such as mild traumatic brain injury and post-traumatic stress disorder “because they suffer from those problems, as well,” Hilton said.

The sessions end with a town hall meeting, where senior enlisted leaders from the other countries take questions from the U.S. junior enlisted NCOs. Popular questions include age (“because these guys are old,”) what their typical day is like and if they have some of the same ethnic strife the Soldiers have seen in places like Iraq and Afghanistan.

“The town hall has turned out to be more beneficial than I anticipated,” Hilton said. “The junior Soldiers in our Army, Navy, Air Force and Marine Corps get to see these gentlemen who have served their defense force for, some of them, more than 40 years. Because in these other countries they join for life. Our junior Soldiers find out they have the same issues we do. They miss their families just like we do. They have personnel and financial problems. They like hearing about what it’s like to be in the Kenyan army or the Rwandan navy.”

NCOs deploying to Djibouti should know that their mission is important and necessary, Hilton said. In addition, the opportunities to gain knowledge, especially from joint and coalition forces, are plentiful. Hilton suggests NCOs read up and study the area before they arrive, at the least completing Level 1 of Senior Enlisted Joint Professional Military Education.

“Bring your ‘A game’ when you come over here,” Hilton said. “It’s important, and the whole world is watching.”

Assignment to U.S. Embassy leads NCO to unexpected professional development

By JONATHAN (JAY) KOESTER
NCO Journal

Sgt. 1st Class Matthew Johnson has been deployed multiple times, but sometimes a mission still surprises him, such as acting as assistant liaison officer at the U.S. Embassy in Djibouti.

Johnson’s primary branch is civil affairs, where he typically joins a team of Soldiers to work with the local populace to identify the locals’ needs, wants and solutions. That’s what he expected to be doing in Djibouti, when he was called instead to the U.S. Embassy, serving as a line of contact between the U.S. Departments of Defense and State. It was not a job he felt ready for.

“When I found out I would be a liaison officer, I felt completely unprepared because this is not my background,” Johnson said. “But somebody is trusting in me. I want to be able to make this work and be successful on behalf of the Department of Defense and the Department of State to show that we can work together. I’ve learned so much.”

Johnson arrived in Djibouti from the 304th Civil Affairs Brigade out of Bristol, Pennsylvania. His main job is to make sure communication between the two departments remains smooth.

“I’m not always the direct chain, but I help facilitate,” Johnson said. “I set up meetings so that the commanding general and the ambassador can communicate and have the conversations they need at their levels.”

In addition, he facilitates access to the embassy for anybody from Camp Lemonnier or Combined Joint Task Force-Horn of Africa who has business there. He helps others with their passports and plans bi-weekly security meetings between the U.S. Ambassador to Djibouti Tom Kelly, the Commanding General of Combined Joint Task Force-Horn of Africa Maj. Gen. Kurt Sonntag and other officials from Camp Lemonnier to discuss pressing issues.

“For example,” Johnson said, “how is Ramadan going to affect Djibouti? How is it going to impact workers here and missions going forward? And how can the Departments of Defense and State collaborate to assist and celebrate during Ramadan?”

As busy as Johnson is at the embassy, he also leads an impressive array of activities at Camp Lemonnier, said Maj. Philip C. Schaub of J9 (interagency partnering) for CJTF-HOA.

“As an active member of the Joint Senior Enlisted Council, Sgt. 1st Class Johnson organized and managed a campwide ‘Spring Fling’ event to provide fun, food and summer safety tips for U.S. Embassy employees and their families,” Schaub said. “He collaborated with all camp associates (USO, Red Cross, Joint Forces 5, Echo 6, etc.) to ensure a successful event. Johnson has volunteered more than 250 hours in support of Friends of Africa Volunteers. He participated in the French English Discussion Group and was the project lead for Troops to Teachers.”

Graphic by Spc. James Seals / NCO Journal
Graphic by Spc. James Seals / NCO Journal

Making connections with people as part of efforts like Troops to Teachers has been rewarding and has helped the mission in some unexpected ways, Johnson said.

“With Troops to Teachers, we bring Djiboutian students on the base temporarily to network, to discuss and to teach them English,” Johnson said. “They already speak five languages fluently. We got to know them and found out a few of them work at the airport. By chance, they’ve been able to assist us as a military with small, but important, tasks when we’ve needed help at the airport, just because we’ve already built that relationship. It’s unique and genuine.”

In addition to all the work Johnson does both at the embassy and volunteering at Camp Lemonnier, he still steps up in many other ways, Schaub said.

“On May 12, Sgt. 1st Class Johnson was enroute back to camp from the embassy when he observed smoke emitting from a local market,” he said. “Without hesitation, he stopped, secured his first aid bag and assisted those in need. He monitored the situation and assisted where needed. Johnson demonstrated his willingness to go above and beyond the call of duty that day.”

Though no injuries were reported, Johnson, with the help of a translator he found on the scene, helped people evacuate the market and phoned in requests for additional fire trucks. Afterward, Johnson made sure the translator was honored for his help.

“As an NCO, Johnson brings a unique set of skills to the job, a set of skills the foundation of which was created in boot camp and has been built brick-by-brick as he progressed though the enlisted ranks,” Schaub said. “It is clear that Sgt. 1st Class Johnson has had good mentors as he has progressed through his career because he is more than willing to assist junior enlisted Soldiers and ensure that not only the mission is always completed and successful but that the Soldiers learn from their experiences. This is what a good NCO does.”

Though he was not expecting to work at the embassy, Johnson said, the experience has made him a better NCO.

“This is something I never would have put personal time into, but now that I’ve had the opportunity to take advantage of it, it’s been good to get a better understanding of what the Department of State’s political officer does, what the economics officer does,” Johnson said. “I’ve learned how that enhances our job, our skill set and our mission here as the Department of Defense.”

Camp Lemonnier isn’t a large post, but on it are coalition forces, in addition to all four branches of the U.S. military. That mix offers another opportunity for NCO professional development, Johnson said.

“There are so many coalition forces here, so there is the opportunity to meet up on any night and just socialize,” Johnson said. “I participate with the French English Discussion Group because I have a little bit of background in French. You learn a lot by just talking to some of their military members, and doing things like going over to the French base and seeing what their conditions are like.”

Watching how the other branches of the U.S. military work can help NCOs think about solutions in new ways, Johnson said.

Sgt. 1st Class Matthew Johnson, 304th Civil Affairs Brigade, is serving as the assistant liaison officer at the U.S. Embassy in Djibouti. (Photo by Jonathan (Jay) Koester / NCO Journal)
Sgt. 1st Class Matthew Johnson, 304th Civil Affairs Brigade, is serving as the assistant liaison officer at the U.S. Embassy in Djibouti. (Photo by Jonathan (Jay) Koester / NCO Journal)

“The Army J6 (communications) versus the Air Force J6 operate very differently,” he said. “That’s something you learn and take back with you. It gets you outside of that train-to-fix vision of thinking just because that is what the Army has taught you. You can think, ‘Oh, I’ve seen the Marines do it this way, and the Navy does it this way.’ We have a variety of NCO organizations or associations here.”

For those looking to duplicate Johnson’s success, his recipe involves getting out of whatever comfort zone you are in and spending time building relationships.

“As an NCO, and as a person, if you want something done, you can’t sit back,” Johnson said. “You have to have initiative and you have to go out and put a face to the name. You can’t sit back and wait for an e-mail.

“Build the relationships before you need them,” Johnson said. “Where I sit as the assistant liaison officer, I go to the J6, because you never know when your communications are going to come down. Go meet the personnel office and say, ‘This is who I am. This is what I’m trying to do here.’ Build those relationships face-to-face, up-front. I think the Department of State does that very well. It’s something on the DOD side that a lot of people do very well, but it’s something we can do better.”

Johnson may not have been expecting his latest mission, but as NCOs so often do, he adapted and has become an important part of making the U.S. military’s mission in Djibouti successful.