>CAMP LEMONIER, Djibouti - When most of us think of Africa, we may think of exotic animals roaming wild in the jungle, safaris on the expansive savannah and hunters looking for their next kill — all images that have been portrayed on the Discovery Channel, in movies like “Tarzan” and “King Kong,” or pictures we have seen in National Geographic.
However, for the son of a Potomac woman, life in Africa is very different. Navy Lt. Cmdr. William R. Dodge, son of Joan Dodge of Raymond Lane, Potomac, is one of more than 1,800 U.S. service members, civilians, coalition forces and partner nations taking part in the Combined Joint Task Force-Horn of Africa.
They are conducting unified actions in the combined joint operations area of the Horn of Africa, which includes a large portion of northeast Africa consisting of the nations of Djibouti, Ethiopia, Eritrea, Kenya, Seychelles, Somalia, Sudan and Yemen. The task force is here to prevent conflict, promote regional stability and protect coalition interests in an attempt to prevail against extremism.
DODGE, AN EMERGENCY medicine doctor, has been deployed to this remote location for three months. "I am responsible for the emergency medical services for all of the U.S. Forces in the Horn of Africa," said Dodge.
Living in tents, working in temperatures that reach an excess of 120 degrees or more for days on end, constant blowing dust and power outages are just a few of the many hardships that Dodge and his fellow humanitarians must endure during their time here to accomplish this mission.
"Our mission is important as we provide stability for the development of the African continent. This stability will ensure the African people can choose the life they want to live without threat from those who want to take away their liberty," said Dodge, who graduated in 1987 from Winston Churchill High School, and earned a bachelor's degree in 1992 from the University of California at Berkley.
Even after working long hours every day, Dodge and the other military members here still find time to spend some of their off-duty-hours helping reach out to those in need. They donate supplies to a local orphanage, help fix up their facility or just play a game of basketball with the children. They also take part in conversational English classes which help the locals develop their use of the English language.
Volunteers also provide medical and veterinarian information to the Djiboutians, helping them improve their quality of life by teaching them how to prevent the spread of malaria and cholera, diseases which are very prevalent here. By going out into the communities, Dodge and the others see a way of life that few people in the United States could ever imagine.
"The hope and possibilities present in the Horn of Africa and its people have left a lasting impression on me. The Horn of Africa represents an area where the United States can prove itself as a unique country in history in that we have worked with the people solely for mutual betterment and not strictly for our own gain," he said.
IN THIS COUNTRY, villagers travel with their camels and goats from Ethiopia to Somalia in the desert, by foot in the scorching heat, for hundreds of miles along camel trails which are thousands of years old, to look for drinking water. When they do find water, it is most likely contaminated and shared by animals and humans alike. After a long day of travel, they bed down amongst the palm trees in the oasis at night.
The military members are on a mission to give the people here the education and tools needed to enable them to have a better way of life. From drilling wells to providing clean drinking water to hosting women's health awareness days, they are making a difference in a region often forgotten by the outside world.
"I have learned that I have achieved a fortunate position in life and it is my responsibility to never take it for granted and use it to assist others when I can and when it is desired," said Dodge.
By serving a tour in the Horn of Africa, witnessing the peoples' constant struggle to simply survive and playing even a small part in improving their lot in life, Dodge and the others have learned a valuable lesson no movie or documentary could ever teach.
— Donna Fair is a writer and editor for the Army and Air Force Hometown News Service.