Long Memories

This is a Memorial Day post that missed Memorial Day. I spent the actual day reestablishing myself in Bahrain after a week’s excursion to Paris with my wife. It was a wonderful time, but it is difficult for this military-minded person to miss the many memorials sprinkled liberally throughout the City of Light.

It’s important as we remember American sacrifice to recall not only the benefits thus conferred on future generations by past ones (and, too often, the current one), but also how lucky we are that such sacrifices have been as light as they have been. There is no better country to visit than France to demonstrate this. Twice within the last century, and once within still-living memory, it has been threatened with national obliteration and not just threatened but delivered with mass death otherwise unheard of among the “civilized” nations, which could only be ended by delivering the same, and worse, to the instigators.

In the United States the Great War is, if not exactly an afterthought, certainly not well-understood and the stakes uncertain. This is not remotely the case in Europe, or even Canada, Australia and New Zealand, which fought vigorously on behalf of the mother country. A visit to one of the world’s oldest capital cities reinforces this.

So be thankful that Americans stood up when called upon, and made the ultimate sacrifice. And be thankful that, as a maritime power not often threatened at home, we have the luxury of forgetting why they did, and why they still do.

But some countries are not so lucky.

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Laugh at the French all you want – they carried a load far heavier than any we have ever known.

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Djiiiiibouti, Djibouti, Oh Yeah, Djibouti Djibouti Djibouti Djibouti*

In my last post I made a two-word comment that may have made no sense if you knew not of what I spoke: “Djibouti sucks.” Djibouti is not, in fact, an exotic Middle Eastern dish, or seaborne disease. Djibouti, as it happens, is its very own country, with territory, people, a government and local traditions no one else knows about. And I don’t mean to slander a whole country.

So let’s first describe why Djibouti sucks, as best explained by this picture taken inside a porta-potty, which is where all the important philosophy happens:

Djibouti is out of this world!

Djibouti is out of this world!

Clear enough, I think.

But despite the possibility of being orbitally divergent from the rest of the Earth, Djibouti is actually really important on account of this picture, taken from the Internet, which is never wrong:

Djibouti: Center of world commerce

Djibouti: Center of world commerce

Djibouti is at dead center of this map. Perched right at the Bab-el-Mandeb, the critical chokepoint leading into the Red Sea and thence Suez and the Med, a huge proportion of global maritime traffic passes through Djiboutian waters every day.

Thus, it caught the attention of the French. Beginning in 1883 they started signing treaties with local tribes to gain a foothold in the area, and by 1896 they were running the show. French administration lasted all the way until 1977, when Djiboutians voted for independence in a referendum.

Overflying the capital, Djibouti City

Overflying the capital, Djibouti City

The French administration ended, but they left their stuff – in particular, Camp Lemonnier. The U.S. had expressed interest in leasing the old French military base prior to 9/11, but after the terror attacks and increased counterterror ops in the region, things really took off for Camp Lemonnier. It’s still not the nicest of places – in the last few years people went from living in tents to shipping containers – but there’s a big runway and all the facilities you need to run a military operation, so it’s a major hub for everything that goes on in the area. And the French Foreign Legion is there, too. Because that’s what they do.

Other people have similar ideas.  China is in the process of building a base elsewhere in Djibouti – which is not that big, by the way. So this ought to be interesting.

The rest looks like this

The rest looks like this

My personal Djibouti experience is limited to walking around the Camp Lemonnier tarmac and using the aforementioned facilities while going to and from a ship at sea – but that’s good enough to say I set foot in Africa, right?

I should add, if you’re a Navy Reservist, you stand a VERY good chance of passing through, for a few hours or possibly eternity. Makes you want to sign up, right?

 

*Yeah, only a couple people will understand why I chose that title but I don’t care.

My experience of Djibouti: Going there so I can go someplace else

My experience of Djibouti: Going there so I can go someplace else

Update: I went to France in May 2016 and saw stuff that seemed pertinent here.

There's that map again, circa 1930.

There’s that map again, circa 1930

Parisian street signs even tell you whey their namesakes are important. Which is nice.

Parisian street signs even tell you why their namesakes are important – which is nice

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Haze Gray? Yay, They Say!

A splendid thing it is, indeed, to go to sea as a Reservist – not necessarily because going to sea is so intrinsically great, but because it is so rare once one has left active service. Opportunities do appear, to be sure – I’ve done it before – but only in certain units at certain times. If one believes in the notion that a sailor belongs at sea, then those times are times to be treasured.

Also, you’ll remember why life at sea sucks and refresh yourself on some of the reasons you left active duty in the first place. But don’t let that stop you. The skies are as dark and the stars are as bright as you’ll ever see.

My schedule this week is somewhat busy, but I want to avoid complete silence on the blog. Three weeks of that was enough. So below I’ve typed up a few notes and observations that I jotted down during the underway period, in more or less chronological order. Some will be developed further later, especially if someone asks. But for now, just some random points:

  • The plane is full of young Marines whom we’re riding along with. The conversation is about what you’d expect.
  • The best way to appreciate the scale of American air power is to fly over al-Udeid Air Base in Qatar and look down.
  • Djibouti sucks.
  • A twelve-hour watch on the boat is still a twelve-hour watch.
  • You never forget the layout of an LHD.
  • I never thought I’d see an UNREP again… much less four of them.
  • If aircraft are tied down forward and on the starboard slide, I will sleep.
  • Allies can be annoying (but we already knew that).
  • Wow, there are stationary bikes outside by Primary Flight Control. I’m never setting foot inside the gym again.
  • I never actually ran on the flight deck when I served on one of these. That has been rectified.
  • Two words: BURGER WEDNESDAY.
  • It’s not a broomstick, it’s a bowhook (this should be a song).
  • Somehow watching MV-22s land from Vulture’s Row seems perfectly safe when you would never watch a plane land from 100 ft away at an airport.
  • The flight deck is always hot. Always.
  • Sunday brunch included ice cream on a waffle. That’s worth going to sea for.

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