ABOARD USS KEARSARGE --
From the East, the sun rises and casts a warm, reddish glow over the Gulf of Aden, slowly revealing the desert-like features of the African port city of Djibouti, Djibouti. The heavy and muggy morning air dashes any hope of a cool day.
Gripping the edge of his seat, Navy Cmdr. Bill Appleton, chaplain for the 22nd Marine Expeditionary Unit (Special Operations Capable), looks out the window of the helicopter he rides in as it taxis across the flight line on Camp Lemonier, Djibouti. Besides passengers, the helicopter is carrying important cargo -- much needed humanitarian supplies delivered by Marines and sailors of the 22nd MEU(SOC) and Kearsarge Strike Group as part of"Project Handclasp" Aug. 31, 2007.
"Participating in Community Relations projects like Project Handclasp in support of the people of Djibouti and surrounding neighbors is much about being a good citizen and ambassador of our own country,"explained Appleton, the former Marine turned chaplain. "We are a nation who has been blessed by the almighty since its very foundation, and the opportunity to share our wealth and good fortune with others is a privilege and obligation."
Project Handclasp was established in 1962. It is a people-to-people program that accepts and organizes transportation of educational, humanitarian and goodwill material overseas. These supplies are distributed by U.S. military personnel to needy recipients around the world.
Several pallets containing items such as medical supplies, sewing machines, clothes and toys were transported by helicopter and surface craft into Camp Lemonier. These items have since been distributed to various institutions in Djibouti, including an orphanage, schools, an AIDS treatment facility and a women's center.
According to Master Sgt. Christopher Reed, a civil affairs Marine at Camp Lemonier, his view on life has been humbled since getting involved with the humanitarian efforts in Djibouti.
"If you change one person's life for the better, you can live a happy life,"said the seasoned Leatherneck, Reed. "If you change two people's lives, you can die tomorrow."
Reed and his Marines thought they had one main objective when they first checked into the 100 acre camp by the sea -- to provide security for the base. But since they arrived six months ago, the Marines have refurbished, built, and fitted new chairs and tables for eight different schools. And they are currently in the process of repainting one of the local schools.
"We greatly appreciate all the help we receive,"said the General Secretary of the National Union of Djiboutian Women, Mme Issack M. Degmo. Her organization is dedicated to the promotion of women statutes in Djibouti. Degmo added she is confident the supplies will be well received and put to a good purpose.
"This project has provided the men and women of the 22nd MEU and Kearsarge Strike Group an opportunity to say thank you to the people and government of Djibouti for their generous hospitality during our brief visit,"said Appleton, whose only regret was not having the opportunity to leave the camp and mingle with the local populous. "I hope that our small act of goodwill has endeared us to our host and will afford other military personnel the opportunity to make future visits."
The 22nd MEU(SOC) recently left its home station, Camp Lejeune, N.C., on a scheduled six-month deployment. It consist of its Ground Combat Element, Battalion Landing Team, 3rd Battalion, 8th Marine Regiment; Aviation Combat Element, Marine Medium Helicopter Squadron 261 (Reinforced); Logistics Combat Element, Combat Logistics Battalion 22; and its Command Element.