View Full Version : Marines help improve life in Africa

01-16-06, 09:31 AM
Marines help improve life in Africa
William Allen of Sarasota is serving, helping in Djibouti
Sarasota Herald-Tribune, FL

Communication between the citizens of Djibouti, a country in the eastern part of Africa, and most U.S. Marines stationed there is mostly limited to a lot of smiling and hand gestures.

But sports are a sort of universal language, and Chief Warrant Officer William Allen and the Africans understand each other perfectly.

"You don't need words to play basketball or soccer," said Allen, a 47-year-old reservist. "Everyone just starts playing."

Allen, who is from Sarasota, was shocked the first time he saw a group of Djibouti boys playing basketball at a local orphanage.

For one, they played in flip-flops on a court covered with debris.

And they were pretty darned good.

"There is no grass in Djibouti," he said. "It's all hard dirt and glass is everywhere. We thought, 'These guys are tough. They are playing in flip-flops and are still better than us.'"

Allen and other Marines raised more than $1,000 for new soccer and basketball nets, and rims. Some of the money will also go to repaving the basketball court.

Allen, a deputy with the Sarasota County Sheriff's Office, left for Africa in August for his third tour of duty in as many years. His first stop was a six-month stint in Iraq, and then he went to Japan before leaving for Africa.

Allen's company, the 3rd Provisional, provides security. The Combined Joint Task Force of the Horn of Africa covers airspace and land in Kenya, Somalia, Sudan, Eritrea, Yemen, Ethiopia and Djibouti. Approximately 1,500 U.S. forces have been involved in the mission since 2002.

Troops there try to help stabilize the region by building schools, churches and finding viable water sources.

They don't get many days off, Allen said, but the Marines find time for community service.

Of the 280 Marines stationed in Djibouti, half have volunteered in some way, Allen said.

Besides working at the boys' orphanage, Marines also volunteer at a home run by the French Catholic Diocese for babies waiting to be adopted. They stop by twice a day to feed the babies, he said. Marines have also asked people back in the United States to donate toys and school supplies.

Allen said he should be home by late March or early April.

"As imperfect as it is, we live with so many freedoms here in America," Allen said. "Sometimes you don't realize that until you go to a country like this or Iraq."

Last modified: January 16. 2006 5:21AM