Category Archives: Navy

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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.

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.

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.

CLUville. Coming to a theater near you.

MTV is out here filming their next reality TV series, CLUville. I’m sure they’ll blow a few things out of proportion, but they could actually come away with a pretty sweet show.

That, of course, is not true, but if the producers read this and realize the potential I want a piece of the cut. Drama? Check. Seemingly miserable living conditions? Check. Horrific bathroom scenes? Check Check. Several episodes could easily revolve around our school-girl-like tendencies to “check the list” every Monday. Oh, and did you hear that the bowl of condoms at the EMF (medical facility) gets refilled every day!? Sex? Check mate. I’ll accept my royalties in bitcoin, please.

This would be the point at which I would say, “But really, let’s talk about CLUville” if any of that were not true. Instead, I think the canvas has been prepped, so I’ll fill in a few details. CLU (pronounced Clue) is an acronym for Containerized Living Unit. That’s what we live in. Imagine a shipping container, and…you’re done. I’m not sure how many are out here, but I can say that I wish I were the dude that pitched the idea to the DOD.

CLUville

A look down the edge of CLUville. Double stacks and single stacks shown. Triple stacks exist deeper in the village.

Before we break down these CLUs, let’s first go over logistics. Part one: you land in Djibouti. You get bussed around, stand, sit, stand, get in line, sign here, sit, listen, stand in line and then you get a key. Don’t go using your imagine now, it’s just a key, old school metal thing, has a tag on it with a number. That number is your CLU number, your new home. Now, race to your CLU so you get first dibs on beds and locker over your roommate, unless the CLU is already occupied, in which case the best of everything is already spoken for. This is home for the next 3 weeks to 3 months, depends on how fast the list is moving.

Clu Ville_2

The west side of CLUville, looking into the heart of the village. In the distance are the triple stacks, it’s a bit more dense in there than out here at the fringe.

The List! Yeah buddy, every Monday, 0900, a new list goes up. Billeting owns it. Did you catch that school-girl comment up above? As the “wet” CLUs are vacated with victorious warriors departing theater the new guys work their way up the list. Once you’re at the top, you get an email marking the second best day at Camp.

Ok, so, the CLU itself. First option, shared CLU, applies to all E’s through O5. Two beds, four lockers, one desk, an AC unit and a door. The containers have a partition in the center so each container has two rooms, no door connecting them. The best part is the shared bathrooms. Also containers but they’re fit out with sinks, showers, urinals, and toilets. Again, doesn’t require a big stretch of the imagination, just cycle a hundred dudes through a container as described. They train us to not give a damn about privacy (just ask a sailor if they’ve ever shared a urinal), this is just an opportunity to put our training into practice. My Gunny at OCS used to make us call a cadence “This is what you asked for”.

Cue the angelic: ahhhhh. New email from billeting, pack your bags, check out a gator, you’re off to greener pastures. For O4 and O5 that means your own CLU with your own head (shower, sink and toilet). For O1-O3 that means your own CLU but the container is split in the middle with a head so you share it with one other dude. I’ll happily report more detail on the wet CLU should I ever be so fortunate to move more than 2 spots every 2 weeks. I was thinking Christmas, but forgot about the political will to get a snapshot with the troops around the holidays (which means many wet CLUs are reserved for the distinguished visitors and staff) so I’m thinking more like Jan/Feb time frame.

Before closing let’s level the playing field. I’m deployed to the desert for America, I get 3 meals a day, shelter, showers and generous entertainment. The living conditions are exactly that…living conditions. We’ll bitch, but we’re doing fine. Oh, and you might be wondering what I’ll be doing with all my royalties, well, I’ve got a seat reserved at the infinity pool at the Kempinski to pitch my next idea to MTV…Pimp My CLU.

Pencil Holder project complete in the Self-Help shop

I finished the pencil holders! I used this project as a means to get to know my way around the shop, and it worked! I got to know BU1, the shop manager, as well as several other people who frequent the self-help woodshop more than I do. I’m now familiar with the tools, earned the trust of the shop manager, and chipped in a few hours of cleaning which serves as collateral against future requests for use of the shop.

Pencil Holder

This pencil holder was my first project in the Camp Lemonnier Self-Help shop in Djibouti. The material is all scrap pine, the biscuits on the edges were made on the table saw, the coin is glued into a depression made with a 1.25″ forstner bit, and the finish is wiped varnish.

All good right? Well, sort of. Here at Camp Lemonnier we are almost wholly staffed by reservists and individually augmented active duty types. One of several repercussions of that is that the turnover rate here is on the order of 150% every year. So no sooner did I build my shop cred, then did BU1 start packing his bags to get on the next rotator out of here. I’m not selfish here though, I’m thrilled for anyone that has done their time and can get the best view of this place…in the rearview mirror. The problem for me is that the Camp doesn’t have another body to replace BU1. They’re going to assign it as a collateral duty to another guy in the meantime, but that likely means it will be open during regular business hours, during which, I have other regular business to attend to.

I’m an optimist, though. Things have a way of working out, so I’ll chum up with the new guy and get back in there. I have two ideas for my next project; either a plaque with the outline of the continent, or a Charitable Woodworking build for the Friends of Africa volunteer group. I’m still working my angle on the latter…stay tuned.

Finishing Tip

Bonus tip: In an effort to cover the whole piece with the varnish I build these makeshift project supports by knocking a few nails through a piece of wood.

Plaque

This commemorative plaque in progress is a fine example of a future project in the self-help shop. The wooden elephants are popular over here so they find all sorts of good uses. It wouldn’t surprise me if the other half of this elephant was elegantly turned into a pencil holder. What else would a squid do with an elephant ass?

Capitol Movement Dancers at Camp Lemonnier, Djibouti

Me? I can pretty much tear up a dance floor. Just ask my wife. I usually start with the water sprinkler, then the pull start lawn mower, maybe pick some cherries and finish off by reeling in my wife with the fishing pole. Those moves just never get old.

Turns out some people take dancing very seriously, like it’s their JOB. I can only imagine that turning a dime as a fully clothed dancer can be a frustrating career path. Low and behold, people are making it happen. Twenty-or-so of them from Capitol Movement Dance Company took the long trip out here to Camp Lemonnier, Djibouti to put on a show for the troops. I went, not because I’m into dancing, but I feel compelled to report on it in this forum, and also to show support to them for going this far out of their way for us.

Some ladies from Capitol Movement Dance Company entertain the troops, one in particular, on board Camp Lemonnier, Djibouti.

Some ladies from Capitol Movement entertain the troops, one in particular, on board Camp Lemonnier, Djibouti.

In my younger, more immature days, I confess I probably would have been a hater. Bashing dancers for such a silly career. I’m much wiser now so have a couple more mature observations to share.

  1. Those cats can change their clothes like Superman. After each skit they would duck into a tent and in less than a minute be back out in a totally new getup.
  2. The physical requirements to be a good dancer are probably obvious to most, no doubt they could probably roast most of the warriors out here in any physical competition, with the exception of straight up duking it out. BUT, what people like me probably don’t catch is how sharp their minds are to remember an hour worth of dance moves, all choreographed and performed in unison.

In closing, I’m not a hater. Kudos out to those young men and women for the hard work they did to get where they are as professional dancers, and for coming all the way out here. The show itself, not really my bag, but I’m pretty sure my Aunt Nettie would be talking about it for days if she saw it, so it was probably pretty good. Thanks again, MWR!

Thanksgiving at Camp Lemonnier, Djibouti

As a men and women joining the military, in broad terms, we think of it as a job application. In reality it’s much more than that. I recall my footloose and fancy free days as an ensign on USS First Ship. Duty on the holiday’s blows, no doubt about that, but my Skipper was on board with his family serving holiday meals to the crew. I’m not even sure it occurred to me then, but in taking the oath, we commit ourselves to a way of life, the job is just part of it. Though I’m no Skipper out here, I had the distinct pleasure of serving Thanksgiving dinner to the crew along with many Camp and HOA commissioned and non-commissioned officers.

Seeing how the thousands of people here on Camp Lemonnier are my family for Thanksgiving, we had a friendly family chase around the base this morning we called the Gobble Wobble 5K. I will say that my training routine has me pointed in the right direction. I held a 7:30 pace to come in a touch over 23 minutes. Hat’s off again to MWR for hosting a great event with tunes at the starting/finishing line, a timer for those who care about their pace, road guards and a joyful pancake breakfast following the race. Eating in sweaty PT gear alone is a bit of a treat out here.

Lastly, and not an insignificant point, is that our chain of command was gracious enough to offer us a day with no scheduled activities, or a day off. Some guys still had to report to the office, but most of us get to take advantage of the holiday. Trust me, it’s a big deal, having the day off was in question right up until yesterday.

As an independent observation, I’ve found that some people just don’t know how to handle independent time. They consider themselves bored and seem more comfortable when someone is telling them what to do. I can’t say whether the military fostered that mentality, or if that mentality is naturally drawn to the military. Regardless, from my own perspective, the time off is an opportunity for me to focus my energy on personal fulfillment. There is so much more to life than ‘the job’, even in light of my observation that our job is really more of a way of life.