Reporter’s Notebook: Soldiers, Marines on an African safari
August 23, 2006
MSATA, Tanzania — Perched on a hilltop with a view of hundreds of miles, the camp where soldiers and Marines stayed during their part of Exercise Natural Fire in Tanzania would have put a serious dent in their wallets under normal circumstances.
For roughly two weeks, the camp was home to some two dozen Marines from the 6th Engineer Support Battalion, a Battle Creek, Mich.-based reserve unit, and a security detail from the 1st Battalion, 16th Infantry Regiment, 1st Infantry Division, out of Fort Riley, Kan.
The group that ran the site was a safari company hired by Combined Joint Task Force–Horn of Africa officials. It was two hot meals a day, hot showers, comfortable beds with new mosquito nets, daily hand-washing of laundry by a group of smiling village women, and all the amenities of a top-grade safari camp.
A similar set-up for anyone going on an actual safari would set them back $1,200 to $1,500 per person per day, according to Scott Coles, operations director of the company that set up the camp.
Military contracting officials declined to say how much they were paying for the camp, food and transportation.
Coles said he loved the experience of hosting the military, and showing servicemembers a country that he loves. After growing up in a military family in places like Camp Casey, South Korea, Coles has lived in Tanzania on and off for 24 years.
While the campsite itself will be used by the Tanzanian military, the tents, showers and cooking facilities were to be hauled away by the safari company.
One of the best things about the camp, soldiers said, was the meals — one in particular. On Thursday night, after completing their project to renovate a village clinic, staffers barbecued four goats that had been slaughtered the night before.
Cooked for hours over a pit of coals, the meat was surprisingly tender, the troops said.
“Best goat ever!” many of them shouted. Along with the goat, filets of antelope and other delicacies were served. Naturally, macabre humor got the best of some of the troops, who watched video of the goats being slaughtered as they ate the meal.
With a day to kill after completing their mission in Tanzania, a group of Marines and soldiers had the chance to go on a mini-safari near the coastal town of Bagomoyo. In Kiswahili, the name means “Broken Heart,” and it nearly turned out that way for one of the Marines.
At some point during the safari, the Marine got out of his vehicle and his wallet fell out of his pocket. Later, when the trucks met again at the waiting point, the Marine noticed his passport and a map were missing as well. “Oh, [expletive] no!” he shouted.
Getting back into the vehicles with another group about to go on the same safari drive, the Marine set out to find his things. A few hours later, the trucks came back. Unbelievably, in a park with hundreds of miles of dirt roads, he had found all three items, in three different locations.
Oh, and the others on the trip saw baboons, giraffes, antelope, wild boars and the backsides of two lions, running away.