Port of Djibouti may look peaceful, but safety requires diligence
November 6, 2004
PORT OF DJIBOUTI, Djibouti — The port looked peaceful enough.
Waves washed the rocks. Crabs climbed out of the water to sun themselves. But Staff Sgt. Joe Mendiola wasn’t taken in by the mellowness.
“Anywhere you go on this side of the world, if you leave your guard down, you’re going to get hurt,” said Mendiola, of the Guam Army National Guard. “It may look peaceful, but there are eyes out there.”
Mendiola was one a 44 troops pulling security Wednesday at the Port of Djibouti for the arrival of a U.S. military ship. The ship, an Army TSV-1X, would be carrying containers of supplies — mostly food — for the troops based at nearby Camp Lemonier.
Djibouti is not the most violent outpost in the war against terror: Not a single shot has been fired in anger here since the U.S. military took over operation of the former French base in May 2003.
But since Djibouti is located 17 miles across the strait from the Arabian Peninsula and next to tempestuous nations such as Somalia and Sudan, why take chances?
First Lt. Spencer Templeton of Norfolk, Va., a force-protection officer for Combined Joint Task Force — Horn of Africa, said troops from all four service branches participated in this day’s port security, along with Djiboutian port security officers.
They arrived at about 2:30 p.m., 2½ hours before the scheduled arrival of the ship. Some of the troops combed the roadside and nearby buildings for bombs and searched passing vehicles.
“When you’re searching for [improvised explosive devices], you’re looking for something that doesn’t belong,” Templeton said.
Bosco was on duty, too.
After troops made visual inspections for explosives, Bosco, a 7-year-old Belgian Malinois, went sniffing around for anything the troops might have missed, as well as into tight spaces the troops couldn’t reach.
Bosco was helped by Marine Cpl. Terry Donaldson of Marine Central Command, who liked his job.
“On one hand, most Marines are very best friends with other Marines,” Donaldson said, a Columbus, Ohio native. “I’m very best friends with my dog.
“A lot of [troops] just like seeing a dog, because they might be missing their dog back home.”
Next to the huge concrete slab to which the ship would be moored, Chief Petty Officer Daniel Trout and Petty Officer 1st Class Roy Sedano searched underwater for anything that wasn’t quite right.
The water, they said, was muddy with very low visibility.
“We had to do a lot of work with our hands,” said Trout, a member of Navy Explosive Ordnance Disposal Detachment 18 of Sigonella, Sicily.
“It takes good diver discipline to not hit the bottom and kick up more silt,” the West Palm Beach, Fla., native said.
About 1,500 U.S. troops are stationed in and around Djibouti, a small country in eastern Africa. French, German, Romanian and other troops help patrol the strategic sea lane.
That was fine with Said Haussein, the port-protection director for the Djiboutian navy.
“We feel very good about it,” Haussein said. “We want to help them, and they are very welcome in our country.
“We want to be a commercial port. We want our friends to come here. We want to protect it.”