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NEWS | Feb. 28, 2008

Marines get to know Djiboutians through soccer

By U.S. Navy David-Michael Ross Petty Officer 1st Class, CJTF-HOA

Marine Gunnery Sgt. Jeffery Smith of Austin, Texas (center) drives the soccer ball down the field. Smith is part of 3rd Lower Altitude Air Defense Battalion, and participating in soccer with Grand Douda Sports Club members.
Marine Gunnery Sgt. Jeffery Smith (center) of Austin, Texas, drives the soccer ball down the field against members of Grand Douda Sports Club members. (U.S. Marine Corps photo)

GRAND DOUDA, Djibouti (Feb. 26, 2008) —Marines from 3rd Lower Altitude Air Defense Battalion, assigned to Combined Joint Task Force – Horn of Africa, found a unique way to combine an essential part of their mission as United States ambassadors with the pure joy of sports competition.

In what has become a weekly ritual, each Monday afternoon after they’ve knocked-off work, the 3rd LAAD Marines emerge from the Camp Lemonier Base gate and into the surrounding area to meet up with members of the local Grand Douda Sports Club for an encounter on the soccer field. The ongoing contest between the two groups is carried out for amusement, exercise and mutual good-will.

“It is a real pleasure when the Americans come out to play against us,” said Abdu Djama, GDSC athletic coordinator,.

“The people in town are big fans of the service members on the American base. Whenever they come here, you’ll see both young and old come out to enjoy the event,” he added.

The weekly “showdown” began thanks largely to 3rd LAAD liaison officer Sgt. Mario Guadarrama’s initiative in sensing an opportunity to build relationships with the people of Grand Douda village.

“Soccer is the primary sport that the people here like to play, so one day I asked them if they would like to have a friendly match against our guys, which they did. They liked it so much and we liked it so much that I suggested that we just make it a weekly thing,” said Guardarrama, a native of San Antonio, Texas.

So far, the weekly competition has continued for 7 months and shows no signs of slowing down anytime soon.

Cpl. Charles Colton of Houston, Texas, said that interacting with the Djiboutian community solely through humanitarian efforts is not enough. He believes it is important that the people in the area understand that Americans are very much like themselves in that they enjoy the same activities and have many similarities despite language barriers and cultural differences.

“It’s good that they can see us out here participating with them and having a good time when we’re not in uniform. They can see that we’re human just like them, and friendship is always important no matter where you find yourself in the world,” Colton said.

Combined Joint Task Force-Horn of Africa works to prevent conflict, promote regional stability and protect coalition interests in east Africa and Yemen through humanitarian assistance, disaster relief, consequence management, and civic action programs. This includes medical and veterinary care, school and medical clinic construction and water development projects.