Civil Affairs in Dikhil, Djibouti, is built of people helping people
School headmasters apply a pressure dressing on a simulated wound in Dikhil, Djibouti, Jan. 8, 2011, as Maj. Cynthia McPherson, 402nd Civil Affairs Functional Specialty Team, observes and advises.

DIKHIL, Djibouti -- I had trouble sleeping the night before we left Camp Lemonnier. It was not the fear of danger; it was the eagerness to begin the mission mixed with the fear that the mission would not have enough of an impact to make a difference.

Our team of health care professionals consists of one physician assistant, a senior combat medic and a registered nurse. Our mission is simple from an academic standpoint: demonstrate first aid to educational directors from remote areas so they may better serve their community by sharing their knowledge with fellow educators, gain skills to decrease complications, and stabilize injuries so advanced medical care can be pursued.

This is not a combat mission; this is a project of faith, sharing and team building with the people of the country that is kind enough to host us as guests. This is about lasting friendships and enhancing self-reliance. This is important, positive and provides lasting, tangible results.

As the team leaves camp the following morning, everything brightens. The clouds part, the sun is more radiant and the smell of the ocean spray tints the air. I feel lighter than I have in days.

This is it, the reason I chose to do what I do. Helping people and building on foundations of friendship and collaboration which already exist, experiencing new cultures and sharing practices. I have been lucky in this regard. The military has been kind to me, a veteran of 25 years.

We arrive at the team house and moods elevate again. The final planning for the next two days is in high gear, full speed ahead. We meet with the regional team and developa plan of action for the next two days. We partner with another team with who we have not previously worked.

Planning and pre-execution checks with team huddles are the key to success with any mission. Our teams become united; the entire group hopes and strives for success. After the long drive and the heightened excitement, I am suddenly exhausted. I sleep well the night before our mission begins.


Finally, the big day arrives. I wake up early to shower and prepare my gear. It feels a bit strange not inspecting and checking my combat gear. It is not needed; this is a mission of trust, confidence and alliance.

I step outside my room to a cool breeze, a brilliant sunrise and glistening mountains. The first call to prayer is heard in the distance as the local people begin their day. This is a society where early to bed is early to rise, where the day begins at sunrise and the hard labor is done before the heat of the day.

This is a place where the community works together building their future, an epitome of teamwork which produces benefits for all. It is the same cooperation and group effort I see sustaining the native villages of Alaska, the partnerships that stabilize and strengthen the links as the years pass. The community develops and grows in response.

The drive to our meeting area is 45 minutes and I am excited to get started. We talk about how great this project is and hope our influence and interaction is positive. The facility is not a fancy hotel conference room or even a westernized classroom, but it is well kept, conducive to our instruction and contains all the technical items we require to present our ideas.

Our Djiboutian peers arrive with an air of excitement. They are excited to learn new practices and build cohesion and commonality. The class is an inquisitive bunch, intelligent and fun. We share our first-aid practices and they share their thoughts and obstacles they encounter to rendering first aid. They seek our knowledge and we seek their best practices. Together we learn, laugh and bond.

The two days pass in a lightning-speed haze. Memories are engrained and friendships are, in fact, born. The end of our second day is both blissful and unhappy. It would have been nice to have more time, to share and learn even more with our new partners, but we know our time is limited. We seize every moment to make it as enhancing as possible.

We smiled, laughed and said our farewells.

After a short battle with a flat tire, we began our journey back to camp. A bit of melancholy descended on the team. Being in the military, it is all too common to develop amity and establish bonds which last only a short while. It is not something any of us really become adapted to, itAca,!a,,cs just a part of the job we dedicate our lives to.

I may never see the outcome of our joint efforts and collaboration, but I know in my heart that what we participated in was good, worthy and right.

Back at camp too soon and already a new project, with a once-in-a-lifetime chance to partner with another country, comes barreling down the pipes, heading my way. My excitement renews.

Page last updated Fri January 21st, 2011 at 04:09