US Marines support Somalia-bound Djiboutian motor group
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> Cpl. Jad Sleiman
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A lamb makes is way through the motor pool Nov. 29 at Camp Chiek Osman. A
small team of Sicily-based SPMAGTF-12 Marines spent two weeks partnering
with Djiboutian supply and maintenance soldiers slated to support their
nation's first deployment of troops to the African Union mission in Somalia.
CAMP CHEIK OSMAN, Djibouti - A small team of Sicily-based Marines spent
nearly three weeks partnering with Djiboutian supply and maintenance
soldiers slated to support their nation's first deployment of troops to the
African Union mission in Somalia.
In the coming months, the East African soldiers will join about 9,000 other
peacekeepers already dealing with the coastal nation's al Shabab insurgency.
The al-Qaida-linked group threatens Somalia's transitional federal
government and continually hampers the international humanitarian assistance
efforts that began after a severe drought struck the region.
The Djiboutian armed forces plan on taking over a dozen humvees with them as
part of an 890-strong force charged with helping stabilize the embattled
Somali capital of Mogadishu and surrounding areas. Split into mechanics and
warehousing sections, the 12 Marine-team worked with their Djiboutian
counterparts Nov. 25 to Dec. 13 to ensure the vehicles would be ready and
remain running throughout their deployment.
"This is a local war; it's in a city not in the bush. These humvees are good
for that kind of war," said 1st Sgt. Sayed Muhammed, the assistant
maintenance chief with the elite FAD Rapid Action Force, adding that the
agile vehicles are useful as reconnaissance scouts.
Special Purpose Marine Air Ground Task Force 12, the team's parent command,
was formed from Marine Forces Reserve units over the summer and tasked with
acting as a platform for sending small security and logistics cooperation
teams into Africa to train with local militaries facing regional terror
threats or instability. Marine leadership say the unit and its types of
missions are in line with what could be a big part of the Corps' future
after Afghanistan, where total U.S. forces are slated to shrink by 33,000 in
As II Marine Expeditionary Force and Marine Forces Africa Commanding General
Lt. Gen. John M. Paxton put it when he spoke to task force Marines in Sicily
Nov. 19: "You're breaking new ground here."
The 130 Marines and sailors of the unit have already sent teams into two
other countries on the continent and are preparing for future missions.
At Camp Chiek Osman outside Djibouti City, most of the humvees were provided
by U.S. forces in 2005 and were still in working condition when the team
arrived. The Marines quickly learned that their counterparts were capable
mechanics, able to handle complex jobs such as transmission rebuilds without
assistance. Men from both forces meticulously inspected each vehicle
together before jointly deciding on maintenance plans.
For the most part, the FAD mechanics requested the Marines' help checking
"They'd ask me to listen to engine," said task force heavy equipment
mechanic and Omaha, Neb., native Sgt. Travis Holz, referring to one
instance. "They'd replaced the cylinder heads and did a really good job."
A few hundred yards from the motor pool is the sprawling 2,500 square-foot
warehouse that supplies the parts and fluids that keep the engines humming.
A four-man FAD staff kept track of more than 75,000 inventory items on a
handful of computers - three desktops that went down two years ago and a
laptop that ran out of steam over the summer. Since then, handwritten notes
had served as the only records and were often
"What you have on hand and what you need is now guess work," said Chief
Warrant Officer Abdi Houssein, the camp supply manager.
Gunnery Sgt. Robert Lusk, the task force communications chief and a
Roseville, Calif., native, has never purchased a desktop computer. Instead,
he builds his own. His first job after completing his Marine Corps training
was in microcircuit repair. He has since worked his way through a wide range
of software, hardware and server maintenance and management positions and
currently works as a corporate technical consultant in between Marine Corps
He, along with several others on the team, were chosen for the mission based
on their civilian expertise in addition to their military occupational
specialties, reflecting the Reserve roots of the unit. Only about half of
the team's Marines were mechanics and supply specialists because most of the
others were deployed elsewhere in the continent or needed in Sicily when the
call for the Djibouti mission came through.
Combined Joint Task Force Horn of Africa, based in nearby Camp Lemonnier,
made the request for assistance on behalf of the FAD Nov. 16, nine days
before Marines were on the ground. This type of short notice mission is
typical of what SPMAGTF-12 is designed to accomplish explained Capt. Joseph
T. Whittington, team leader and St. Louis, Mo. native.
"This unit represents the full spectrum of what the Marine Corps can do," he
said, explaining that future missions could just as likely call for things
like humanitarian aid or bilateral infantry tactics training.
Lusk managed to solder and splice the desktops back to life and pulled years
of stock data from the recently damaged laptop while other warehouse section
Marines worked with a Djiboutian supply soldier to decipher French records
and locate technical manuals and catalogs in an adjacent room.
The Djiboutian forces identified a lack of supplies as their biggest
stumbling block - they have no dedicated garage for humvee repair and
limited spare parts, tools and fluids. While the Marines couldn't build them
a new maintenance shop, they could share the ways they've stretched the life
times of their vehicles in a branch of the U.S. military that has
historically functioned with less funding than the others.
Strict maintenance schedules and records coupled with a more efficient
warehouse could save the FAD motor pool money and man hours down the road,
they said. After the vehicles were ready to go, the Marines spent a few days
going over preventative maintenance practices and supply techniques with the
"An oil change every 3,000 miles is a lot cheaper than a new engine every
year," explained Cpl. James Bailey, a task force motor transport mechanic
and Baltimore native.
With the team's time in country drawing to a close, the Marines wished their
counterparts luck during their deployment and toasted to their success
during one of the forces' daily tea breaks. The mission was the first
partnership undertaken by SPMAGTF-12 in Djibouti and the first opportunity
to interact with foreign forces for many on the team.
Sgt. Alan Nudo, a heavy equipment mechanic from San Francisco, worked
"inside the wire" during his last deployment to Iraq and never got the
chance to talk to the locals or experience the culture beyond the base
gates, he said. Aboard Camp Cheik Osman he was quick to take pictures with
the FAD mechanics he worked side by side with and asked numerous questions
about their way of life, often in rapid fire succession. Livestock milled
around between the humvees and camel crossings delayed road tests.
"A lot of mechs don't get this kind of opportunity," he said.
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Received on Tue Dec 13 2011 - 07:35:42 EST