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Seabees 'Waging Peace' In Djibouti
Djibouti, Mar. 13, 2006 – They take off their construction gear and lay down the rifles to mingle with the village schoolteachers who mostly speak English, and they play basketball with teenagers who speak Afar and French - all part of what Seabees call "waging peace."
Seabees from Naval Mobile Construction Battalion 7 based in Gulfport are building a school dormitory for children in Tadjora, Djibouti, in Eastern Africa, and they expect to have it completed next month. The 4,000-square-foot shelter will house some 100 children.
Petty Officer 1st class James Penney, 30, said in a telephone interview that the work is an effort to "win the hearts and minds" of the people of Djibouti.
"The big thing that they drill us with before we get here is that we might not be in Iraq fighting the war with guns, but we are fighting the war here and trying to show our face to the children so that in 10 years they aren't trying to fight us."
The Seabees are part of the Combined Joint Task Force-Horn of Africa, which operates out of Djibouti where servicemen from most military branches support the global war on terrorism in several different capacities.
Penney and his crew of nine often interact with children from ages five to 12, but also hit the hard court to play basketball with high school students in the area. Seabees also watch a lot of soccer games, which are very popular in that part of the world, he said. He said the Seabees have been teaching the village children how to play catch with baseball gloves.
The Seabees hope to improve the living conditions of the schoolchildren by giving them a decent shelter to live in.
Penney said the children have improper diets.
"You look at the kids and right off the bat you can tell a lot of them are malnourished and dehydrated," Penney said. "They definitely don't receive the proper care."
Penney said his team can't take credit for spurring the dormitory construction project, as it was started by members of NMCB-1 and NMCB-3, about eight months ago.
"That's definitely Seabee work," Penney said. "It takes a couple of different battalions to finish."
Members of NMCB 7 deployed about a month ago, leaving Gulfport for the Horn of Africa, but Penney said he hopes to return home soon to a better standard of living.
By MICHAEL NEWSOM
Source: Sun Herald, Mar 13, 2006