Building citizens' trust often starts with caring for their animals
November 21, 2004
CAMP LEMONIER, Djibouti — The first mission was a bust.
A crew of well-meaning, but not-yet-trusted, U.S. troops had traveled from Camp Lemonier south into Ethiopia to do a veterinarian civil affairs project.
The crew was going to treat donkeys, sheep and cows, but word among the tribe was that the Americans were going to poison their animals.
Only a few people showed up. Their camels were treated for annoyances such as boils, their goats for ailments such as hyena bites. The animals got shots and got fed.
Over a few weeks, the calves got fatter and the camels healthier. The word among the tribe changed.
“The next time we went there, the animals came pouring in,” said Maj. Julie Roche, of Sautee, Ga., a veterinarian and Army reservist assigned to the 96th Civil Affairs Battalion.
She considered it a victory of sorts in the war on terror.
“For me, it’s a victory on the animal side,” Roche said. “Once you get a victory there, you’ve got a little victory with the people.”
Animals are like currency in the African wild. They provide milk, food and are used as beasts of burden to carry belongings from one place to the next.
“At the last village we went to, it was more important for the men to get their animals treated than their children or wives,” Roche said. “We’d go to treat the wives and they’d tell us to take care of the animals first.”
About 1,500 U.S. troops are stationed at Camp Lemonier as part of Combined Joint Task Force- Horn of Africa.
Since establishing the camp in May 2003, the troops through October had conducted 18 veterinary projects and 19 medical civil affairs projects, as well as nearly 90 assorted school renovations, military-to-military training programs, plus well-diggings, hospital resupplies and so on.
The troops choose sites where the most impact would be made and consult local leaders before showing up. Sometimes it means flying to remote destinations and driving for hours up a dry riverbed.
It always requires translators who speak French, Arabic or one of the African languages.
The host nation often provides security. It hasn’t yet been needed.
“We haven’t fired a shot in anger or been shot at since we've been here," said Marine Col. Craig S. Huddleston, chief of staff for CJTF-HOA.
Roche, who was also called up to serve in the Balkans and Afghanistan, said she has been both rewarded and humbled by the experience.
“You realize there are a lot of people out there who don’t have what you have and are perfectly happy,” she said. “They just want the basics — food and water.”