Category Archives: Camp Lemonnier

Topics regarding my 2015/2016 deployment to Djibouti, Africa.
All pictures reviewed by CJTF-HOA Public Affairs office.

Closing the Chapter on Djibouti

Well that’s that. All done. Wrapped it all up.

It’s easy to by cynical about this whole deployment. It’s harder to view it in a positive light, especially as I sit in Norfolk for five days longer than I should have to waiting for an appointment with PSD so that I can get a signature on a piece of paper so I can go see my family. Icing on the cake. One last reminder that I need to get out of this business…and start something new.

An unclassified Appalachian Trail Marking. Particularly humorous given where I came from.

An unclassified Appalachian Trail Marking. Particularly humorous given where I came from.

Let this deployment serve as the greatest piece of inspiration for me to stretch my neck out there and start something of my own. I have ideas, lots of ideas and I’ve found a pretty good way to relate them all into a bigger aspiration. That is where this blog and website will be directed. Come along with me, starting from scratch to build a sustainable business venture on the heels of the permaculture movement. Together we’ll start a community knife sharpening business to fund infrastructure projects on the land that will enhance the health of my family and community. Read the whole plan on a soon to be published ebook on Amazon and join the fun as we video log the whole project for real time community involvement on YouTube. It’s time for me to start giving back by sharing what I know and inspiring people to take control of their lives. If there’s something to inspire me from Djibouti, it’s that life doesn’t have to suck.

I took advantage of my paid vacation in Norfolk to scoot out of the city and into the woods of Shenandoah National Park. What a site for sore eyes, and smells for a sore nose. Oh, speaking of that, smells have been one of the most delightful things about returning to the US. I played a pickup game of Frisbee in Norfolk on real grass, and the smell that came off of the grass from people making cuts for the disc almost made me forget what I was doing out there. And all the earthy smells on the trails in Shenandoah. Just enchanting. Paraphrasing the Prophet, you need to have it bad to know when you have it good.

Doyle River Cabin. My Dad and I hiked this trail on our way to dropping me off at OCS 15 years ago. Far out. A lot has happened in those 15 years.

Doyle River Cabin.
My Dad and I hiked this trail on our way to dropping me off at OCS 15 years ago. Far out. A lot has happened in those 15 years.

In closing the chapter on DJ I’m including some gouge that I picked up from passing through ECRC on the way out. Polar opposite to coming through. It seems their system for getting us downrange is much more refined than their system to get us home. Anyway, here are some things I wish I knew then that I do know now. Cheers:

  • Follow all the other gouge you hear about doing medical and dental in DJ. In my case I needed a referral for a persistent ear infection which meant I got on the PSD list late, which means I got pushed through the weekend.
  • Lodging: Call and get a CNA for dates as if you were doing TAPS just in case you end up held long like me. If you can’t get a CNA call the Lodge and get a reservation, you don’t need a CNA for the Navy Lodge and if you’re off base the per diem is doublish.
  • Rental Car: I paid out of pocket. They were making some deals where one dude from each hotel would get it reimbursed. I didn’t pursue it because I didn’t want to be on the hook for driving chaps around. I got the rental from the airport and after getting to the hotel and washing the bod I split a cab up there. I stuck Ryan Alexander with the bill like any good senior officer would do so it actually only cost me the tip. When I finally get my ticket it will be nice to just cruise up there rather than work something with the rental place on base. Apparently booking Avis through USAA is a good deal. I did Kayak or Expedia or something and it seemed comparable.
  • Paperwork: They tricked most of us by saying we needed our OCR, so do that and any DD214’s you have, proof of all awards (ASOSH), do your PDHA and I think that’s it, your orders obviously.
  • Courtesy Demob: If you care, I worked mine through the NOSC I drill at, just tell the MOB rep there that you want to courtesy demob somewhere else because you don’t want to waste government money. They make you fill out something, then forward it to the NOSC you want to demob with, all easy, but they do say they need 30 days to do it. I was within that window when I asked and it still worked.
  • Fly somewhere other than your NOSC: They’ll fly you where you want to go but your NOSC needs to complete a HOR (Home of Record). Sounded easy if your NOSC is willing to support.
  • Time: Monday was busy, Tuesday was nothing, Wednesday was busy, and then nothing until you can get checked out with PSD.
  • Recreation: The beach at the Little Creek base is real nice, just follow signs for the golf course. There’s a fishing pier past the carriers on NOB that is a good way to burn some time. There’s a running trail at Jeff Robertson’s Park in Ghent which is nice too, and close.
  • Dining: I think I had the best burger of my life at 80/20 Burger Bar. The Killa B (for Kevin Burel) is a bleu cheese bacon goodness. The meat is from real cows in VA. That and the salted caramel ice cream. Dang. Also check out Taste for lunch if you are itching for real vegetables. And the Lynnhaven Fish House for your fish fix. I hit up the French Bakery in Ghent when looking for Charlie’s. The dude made up a mean omelet with some bread thing with a fig layer on the bottom, real good, but not on the menu so if you find Eli just tell him what you need.
  • Ultimate: Every Sunday at 3:30 and Wednesday at 5:30 at Jeff Robertson’s Park. Good peops. Crossed a few I played with 10 years ago.

Into the home stretch

Purchase I’m into – my Bose Bluetooth around the ear wireless headphones. Cutting the cord was a big deal to me, and sound quality. There’s a lot of options out there, but I knew if I spend the dough Bose wouldn’t let me down. I walk with them, run with them, PT with them, travel with them, and meditate with them.

App I’m into – Calm. You read that right, meditate. Game changer. Carries a stigma in opposition to manly men stuff, but get over it and you’ll thank me. I tried Headspace, wasn’t my bag. Calm is the bomb. I meditate every morning before hiking into work. There’s more in it than this post allows, but overall it’s helped me recognize that the only time there is, is now. Dig it. Don’t dwell on the past, or fret about the future.

Entertainment I’m into – Vlogs (Video Blogs). In particular Justin Rhodes with Abundant Permaculture. I bought his video ‘Permaculture Chickens’ after hearing him on The Survival Podcast and have been a follower ever since. He’s invited the world into his farmstead. In so doing he’s provided me inspiration as a father and homesteader. Good dude with a beautiful family. A vlogger that inspires him is Casey Neistat. He’s a NY City slicker, but a great videographer and editor.

Future technology I’m into – the Boosted Board. We now live in the future, it’s cool, embrace it, and check out the Boosted Board. I first heard about it from Geoff Lawton, but Casey captures some awesome videography with it, I think it holds a lot of potential in areas with high population density. People say it’s expensive, and it is, but it’s awesome. And if you compare it to the cost of an automobile in the city, pennies on the dollar.

Book I’m into – The River of Doubt. Teddy Roosevelt has been inspirational to me for a long time. He deserves at least some credit for my National Parks tour of the US I took in my twenties. This book was an awesome combination of factual history and story telling. I love stories (e.g. Travis McGee and Dirk Pitt) but I can’t help but feel like I’m wasting my time reading fiction when I could be learning real world stuff.

Activity I’m into – Ultimate Frisbee. I’m so glad pickup games are still taking place. Once a week. Most of the cats are real cool, and it’s an awesome workout. I hope I can get into some pickup or league play when I get home.

Inspiration I’m into – Less than 90 days. A big wave of guys I’ve worked with since I got here just took off, that means I’m not far behind them. A few more months and I’m out. Make the days count, don’t count the days. Six-pack abs, permaculture wizardry and a peaceful mind. I got this.

One Day

Profound experiences don’t have to come with pomp and circumstance. I got one on my way home last night. It was dark out, I got off later than usual. Taking the back road to the West End I was passed by a young man on a bicycle. I’m not sure if he was a service member, more likely a KBR employee. His phone was playing aloud a song I love, and haven’t listened to in a while, One Day by Matisyahu.

Without thinking I began singing along, I know the lyrics well, and that’s when the irony hit me, and in a profound way. Continue reading

The Keystone Habit that Changed My Life

I am not afraid to confess that this deployment has given me the blues like I’ve never had before. I have a new respect for troops suffering from PTSD, and in particular, those whose traumatic stress is combat related. I have never seen combat, and I am thankful for that, but nevertheless, the sequence of events that brought me to where I am have challenged my commitment to the system.

It’s like shopping for a new car. Once you know the one you want you can’t help but see every damn one of them. My buddy Big Steve is looking for a Jeep. He couldn’t drive past a Walmart Continue reading

What’s on the bookshelf.

Have you ever postured yourself to look smart, or wise, or traveled by strategically loading your bookshelf? It’s natural for us to place judgement on others based on what they claim to have read. The whole e-reader thing is throwing this off kilt. I think the next product I’ll invent is an interactive poster of a bookshelf that updates in real time to reflect all the books on one’s kindle. Clever, right?

Reading has been my pastime of choice lately so I’m going to share with the world the books on my bookshelf, physically and digitally.

Clive Cussler: This dude has been keeping me very well entertained. All fun fiction about marine scientists solving the pressing problems in the world. As a navy dude/ocean engineer stuck in the army’s domain, I’m living vicariously through my boy Dirk Pitt. I started with Black Wind, was lead to Raising the Titanic and am now on Atlantis Found. I follow Tim Ferriss’ guidance by reading fiction before bed to slow the mental wheels that would otherwise spin over the mundane but find myself so enthralled I end up taking my kindle with me wherever I go in the event I get a few minutes to read while waiting somewhere. (digital)

The Resilient Homestead – Ben Falk: Ben is a fellow permaculturist with a bit of a head start over me, but what I like most is that he is doing great stuff in Vermont, a comparable climate to my own at home. His book reads more like philosophical farming text book, which has its place in my routine, but hasn’t been one that I can’t put down. Rather, like Naval Ravikant suggests, I pick it up and flip to a part that I’m interested in at that moment in time and read there for a bit. Not cover to cover, and no strong desire to get to the end before moving to something else. (physical)

Surely You’re Joking, Mr. Feynman! – Mr. Feynman: A fun read about a mischievous technical nerd. Enjoyable, and up my alley, but not a true competitor to Dirk Pitt, so I’m not deeply engaged on this one. (digital)

Sepp Holzer’s Permaculture – Sepp Holzer: Clearly another permaculture book. This one is good because this dude, Sepp, was cultivating with permaculture techniques before the term was coined. He has got me really interested in ponds and mushrooms. I’m not a doomsdayer, but I fear that someday we will look back and be embarrassed by the way we treat water. Not like ‘water treatment’ but like not catching what falls from the sky, and instead expediting its journey to the ocean as if its presence is a problem. (physical)

Gaia’s Garden – Toby Hemenway: I read this cover to cover last summer. It’s now a great reference in the realm of permaculture. Toby includes lots of tables to assist in companion planting (guilds), nitrogen fixers and so much more. I’ll probably never read this again cover to cover, but will reference it for as long as I’m digging permaculture. (digital but I want a physical version)

The Secrets of Happy Families – Bruce Feiler: My ambition is to come home from this deployment a better husband and father than I left. I picked this one up to gain some insight into ways to improve, and it has some good tips, but after getting a quarter of the way through I decided it was written for someone else, so I put it down. I welcome suggestions on this topic, my opinion to date is that most books on this topic are written at or near the 3rd grade level. Not trying to be an ass, just honest. (digital)

With one major exception:

The Prophet – Kahlil Gibran: Published in 1923, has withstood the test of time. The concept is this prophet is leaving a community and before he goes the townspeople ask his opinion on all the truly important topics in life, e.g. love, religion, family, work, etc. The prophet’s answers are succinct, inspiring and accurate. I almost well up just thinking about the answers to marriage and children. If you consider yourself an insightful person you must buy this book, read it to your family and keep it front and center on your bookshelf to revisit frequently. (digital, but hardcopy on its way)

What’s on your bookshelf? What do you recommend? What book have you gifted the most? Let me know in the comments section.

Reflections

With Sunday in the rear view mirror I feel like some reflections are in order.

I have committed very conscious energy and thought into personal well-being and mindfulness. There are only a few here who, given other options, would choose to stay here, so I feel this is applicable. Even if you aren’t deployed to DJ, I suspect most of us could gain from what I am going to share.

During a commencement address in 2005, Steve Jobs offered to reflect on death, and in the morning ask yourself, “if this were my last day alive, would I do what I’m about to do?”  After a few too many days in a row where the answer is “no” you must take action. Watch his address in its entirety and I promise you you’ll thank me, assuming, that is, you haven’t already.

In my own reflections I am torn between money and lifestyle. If I could wake up tomorrow to go tend to my animals, my crops, my woodshop or my machine shop and then make quality breakfast for my family, my answer to the above question would be yes. I don’t think I fell off the track, I’m not sure I was really ever asked the question and not wise enough to consider it deeply enough on my own. My parents might take objection to this, but I think I was raised to think that money leads to happiness, rather than happiness leading to money. What if money was no object? Watch this video to hear it put in better words, and with more inspiration. Then watch this video on what Ben Falk with Whole Systems Design is doing in Vermont. That, to me, is inspirational.

Systems engineering on the homestead and farmstead. That’s brilliant. I could burn 12 hours a day on jobs like that and my only bitch would be that there’s not enough time in the day. My conscience tells me there’s no money in it. What’s a man to do?

A friend of mine sent me the Complete Short Stories of Earnest Hemingway, a great bedside book. During the last two decades of his life, Hemingway lived at Finca Vigia, or Lookout Farm, in San Francisco de Paula, Cuba. That struck a chord for me, Lookout Farm. My ‘stead overlooks the pasture of an old dairy farm, my street is one of the most scenic farming roads in the NH seacoast, so taken literally, the name applies. More figuratively, applications of permaculture farming techniques are looking outside of the box of conventional modern day farming. What if you can improve the quality of soil by growing crops? Big Ag would say it’s impossible. Lastly, once people discover that all the food in the US is grown by 1% of the population, and that most of those 1% are above the age of 60, lookout for the revolution in the agriculture industry. (PS It’s already underway.)

Final Tip: courtesy of the Tim Ferriss. If you implement one thing into your daily routine to improve your mindfulness and quality of life. Make your bed. Easy, just do it. So now you can do two things to improve your mindfulness and quality of life. Start a Five-Minute Journal. Call attention to the world around you and take advantage of every opportunity to steer destiny in the direction you need it to go.

PS Tip: use the time you were going to read meme’s on Facebook today to follow and read all the links above. Then say thank you in the comments section.

Cheers!

Ringing in the New Year – Djibouti Style

As I was rinsing off in my own shower on the first day in 2016 I got the urge to share my day with the world in the hopes it will illustrate the caliber of people I’m here with.

The day truly started at the Wardroom with champagne and a packed room of mostly dudes singing to music loud enough to provide the good fortune of not being able to hear the guy singing next to you. Shortly afterward, Big Steve and I crashed a Gunny and Metoc date at Subway. Yes, Subway is pretty much always open.

Sleep in. Day off. Well, for most of us.

I eased over to Green Beans to work on my latest entrepreneurial venture (Ball Caps) and to take advantage of the generous “Cup ‘O Joe” program. I agreed to meet some dudes for lunch at noon and on my hike back I crossed paths with Braxton, he was burning some time with a sunny stroll around Camp.

The lunch party grew pretty quickly as we all seemed to inadvertently have the same idea so we reserved a table for 6 at the finest restaurant in town. Following chow I had some downtime to read before hitting the gym for a quick kettlebell and ab workout. PVKeith and I had a Frisbee date at 1800 before my jogging date with Streak and Gunny at 1900. On my walk home I crossed paths with the Gioe and Mack Attack and agreed to meet up in the minutes following at the galley.

Blah blah, I zoom through that to get to the point. The conversations about what all the dudes are doing on the first day of the year! How we spend our days, is of course, how we spend our lives. (-Annie Dillard)

  • Gunny wrote a budget and wrote down his New Year’s resolutions, which include fitness, scheduled random acts of kindness, and personal and professional growth.
  • PVKeith spent his time on the horn with friends and family and did a lump sum deposit into his IRA, maxing out his annual contributions before most of you even knew it was 2016.
  • Streak took one for the team and hit the office. Our Colonel is a Brit and, for boring reasons, someone needs to be in the office with him. Thanks Streak!
  • Big Steve has 4 youngsters so he took the available time to tune into his family.
  • At the gym I crossed Tiny, Smiley and Mudder. Use the time to get fit.
  • I wish I could say something for Mack Attack and Gioe, but I guess someone has to be the outlier. Oh wait, they met up for a run before dinner, you’re off the hook fellas.

I hope that illustrates the point that the dudes who have become my next best thing to family are a motivated group and a positive influence.

Ok, that concludes the hug show. We have a GWOT to win.

Merry Christmas from DJ

I was very well taken care of by friends and family this Christmas.

I was very well taken care of by friends and family this Christmas.

Merry Christmas!

So, Somalia outlawed Christmas. Djibouti, and those of us on Camp Lemonnier did not. It was actually quite pleasant. Friends and family back home were more than generous and thoughtful in sending holiday cheer, but do you want to know what the best present of all was?

My own wet CLU.

It’s been a few days now, I’m somewhat settled in, but I’m still logging it as a Christmas miracle. The things that you don’t value until they’re gone are: privacy, a personal toilet, and a shower in which all the leftover pubes belong to people you know.

My own private room!

My own private room!

No mud, no stray hairs from strangers, and no shower shoes!

No mud, no stray hairs from strangers, and no shower shoes!

No one else will be using this toilet or sink for the rest of my stay!

No one else will be using this toilet or sink for the rest of my stay!

The internet mafia went after the hearts and minds by offering free internet on Christmas day and one day on either side. A nice offer, but probably a poor business choice. It had no effect on my Skyping home to see my daughter open presents. That was my number one priority today no matter what. Money no matter.

If you’ve ever deployed, or know someone who has, you might be familiar with the term “deployment family”. It’s a must have for sanity’s sake and I did get to enjoy Christmas dinner with my deployment family. Mostly the boys I came with, and some more I’ve picked up along the way. In our culture meals are really what bring us together and the galley catered to us so I’d like to offer a sincere shout out to all the peops who slaved on Christmas day to bring us a bad ass prime rib, lobster, turkey, shrimp, egg nog, cake, ice cream and pie dinner.

Thanks to the galley team for putting together a great spread.

Thanks to the galley team for putting together a great spread.

I made this my cheat day which means I usually let go of the reins and don’t even make an attempt to PT, but the boys were doing an easy 2 miles so I felt obliged to join. Some of us also met up to watch “It’s a Wonderful Life” in the theater last night. I went for the social aspect, but found the flick more funny and enjoyable than I remember it being. MWR hosted a band but I did not make the effort to fit it into my evening. Much to the chagrin of my sister-in-law.

The jog justified the second scoop of ice cream.

The jog justified the second scoop of ice cream. And who knew I was so short?

If asked where I’d rather be right now I’d answer “at home” without hesitation, but since I’m not, and I can’t be, and someone’s got to be over here, and all other things considered, it’s about the best Christmas a man in a combat zone could have.

Grand Bara 2015

Lord willing, this was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. A 15K footrace across a dried up salt lake in the Djiboutian desert. Of course, we did it Gunny style. What, you ask, does that mean? Please, allow me.

Step one: proper planning. And rightfully so, we took a lot of troops off Camp so proper planning and force protection measures were necessary.

Step two: show up wicked early. In the Navy we say, if you’re early you’re on time, and if you’re on time you’re late. We mustered at 0115 (that’s 1:15 in the morning) for a 0600 race less than 2 hours away. Don’t get me wrong, I am all about showing up early, the only downside was that it meant sitting on a bus for 5 hours before a 15K race.

How about some highlights? Continue reading

A reprieve in Germany

I had the incredible fortune to travel off CLDJ into Germany. Words can’t explain how great it was to be part of civilization again. But alas, all good things must come to an end, so back to DJ for me. Here’s what sticks out the most: the shower, the food, the general happiness of the people, the speed of the free WiFi, the relaxed and welcoming work ethic of our brethren at AFRICOM, the crisp air and natural running path, and the shower.

Before departing for Germany I wrote my graduate advisor, who is German, and he advised me that the most important bucket list items were to dine on spaetzle and German beer. He’s brilliant. I’m happy to report to the boss – Mission Complete! What he failed to warn me about were all the sexual innuendos (see pics from my hotel room).

AFRICOM works respectable working hours so in the evenings I ventured out to the subway and, as any good tourist should do, pushed buttons, paid money, and rode the train in whatever direction it was going. Once again, no major international incident incurred. I found myself in Schlossplatz for Winter Market festival. Awesome! I will confess that it made me pine for my own daughter seeing kids on skates and riding amusement rides.

In the spirit of providing tips to future warriors fortunate enough to find the need to visit the boss:

  • The Dormero hotel is sweet. Killer breakfast, great bar, English is no problem and it’s super close to the base.
  • Get as few rental cars as possible. They’re a pain in the ass. My travel partner got it and had to deal with it despite several attempts to pawn it off on me.
  • Get your spouse out there. Better yet, drop a 96 hour liberty chit when you find out you’re going and add some time off at the end.
  • Some extra lead time on the front end is critically valuable to navigating the base, sell your chain of command on that, not to mention some after action meetings required on the back end of whatever you’re there for. Picking up what I’m putting down?

Germany was the bomb, but, if I had been travelling from home I would likely be slightly less impressed. I’d still rather be home, I’ve made a good life at home, but it points to the fact that hardships in life help us appreciate the finer things that often go overlooked. Sometime after I get home I expect a situation where we’re packing up the kid and the dog to go on some trip and a bag falls over and some milk spills and a tire is low on air and I drop my phone and the dog won’t get in the car and our daughter is crying and I hope that when that apparent cluster happens I can have the will to slow down, give my wife a hug and say, at least I’m not in Djibouti.