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Sand Sharks improve Djiboutian quality of life

6 Dec 2001 | Cpl. M. Trent Lowry

For the third time in more than a year, utilities specialists from Marine Wing Support Squadron-371 used their talents to benefit citizens of the African nation of Djibouti.

The MWSS-371 Sand Sharks sent a detachment of nine Marines and a corpsman to the east African nation for nearly three weeks, from Oct. 31 to Nov. 19. Their goal while on the humanitarian assistance mission was to perform a variety of projects that would provide better hygeine, shelter and power to a clinic used by the people of Hol Hol.

"We met 100 percent of our goals, and then some," said 1st Lt. Minh Trinh, support company commander with MWSS-371 and the Djibouti detachment commander.

The Marines installed a concrete base for a 500 liter water tank, and then installed the tank, at Hol Hol Medical Clinic. The water tank was just the first step, because the Marines also installed plumbing and electricity to the clinic so that the patients and medical staff would have running water and power.

In order to provide the electricity to the clinic, the Sand Sharks installed solar panels to the roof of the clinic. The Marines then installed a 10 kilowatt generator and wired the building so the Djiboutians could use the new utilities.

"I think we really made a difference in improving the Djiboutians' way of life," said Lance Cpl. Michael Royer, a refrigeration mechanic with MWSS-371, who was on his first humanitarian assistance mission.

While they were working on the improvements to the clinic, the Marines of MWSS-371 also completed smaller renovation projects, such as replacing window framing and installing window shutters, painting much of the facility and constructing and painting a new sign for the clinic.

"Military training-wise, I like these detachments because the Marines get a chance to cross-train and do something different from their MOS (military occupational specialities)," said Gunnery Sgt. John Parriett, MWSS-371 utilities chief.

The Marines said they agreed that the cross-training opportunities are excellent while on humanitatian assistance missions like the one to Djibouti.

"I learned a lot out there. I was an electrician while on the detachment. We rewired a whole building from scratch and put in a brand new water system," Royer said.

One way this trip has differed from other Djibouti projects is that the Marines had little time to prepare for the detachment, and less time to complete the project. The detachment, whose trip had been postponed and cancelled due to physical security concerns, originally had 10 days to accomplish the mission, but after rescheduling the project was cut to five days. Undaunted, the Marines completed the task in four days.

"Each mission presents a different obstacle," said Parriett, who completed his third trip to Djibouti with this mission. He said this time was more of a logistical hassle because they had to take the military gear for the Sand Shark personnel through commercial airports because of the short time they were given to prepare, instead of shipping it ahead of the detachment, as they normally do.

The mission was made possible, Trinh said, because 50 members of the 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit were performing a medical capabilities exercise at the Hol Hol clinic at the same time that MWSS-371 had Marines in the area. The Marines of the 15th MEU were able to provide physical security for the Sand Sharks and their own personnel and assets.

Also, for the first time the Marines of MWSS-371 were able to interact with the Djibouti military, who hosted the detachment at their "boot camp" facilities.
The Marines said they were impressed by the Djiboutians and moved by seeing their plight.

"I'll remember how the people lived compared to how we live. They live in little rock huts without running water," said Royer of the Hol Hol villagers, who live roughly 40 kilometers (25 miles) from the capital, Djibouti City.

"They really seem to like the (American) military. They would salute us as we passed by. I got a real sense of accomplishment by helping them," Royer added.

As opportunities arise in the future, the Marines said they welcome the chance to lend a hand again to better the lives of the people of Djibouti, or wherever their talents are needed.

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