CAMP LEMONIER, Djibouti — When the orders came down for duty in Djibouti,
many troops reached for an atlas.
Several of the more than 1,000 troops at Camp Lemonier say they didn't know
where Djibouti was, let alone what to expect there.
"As far as this being the field and being a forward-deployed area, you can't
get any better than this," said Marine Staff Sgt. James Newton, 40, from
Chicago, echoing a sentiment of many others on the 88-acre post who also have
been deployed to Iraq.
Unlike Iraq, troops in this eastern African country haven't come under
attack. And while liberty restrictions vary as a precaution so there is no
pattern of when troops will be in town, many eat, shop or party off post.
The camp offers entertainment in a recreation building that has comfy
couches, a big-screen TV, video games, pool tables and Foosball. There's a
football field-sized gym and basketball court. A convenience store-size base
exchange sells T-shirts, CDs and junk food. At night, a few dozen troops can be
found drinking beer at The Cantina, the camp bar that also features karaoke
A dirt road divides the camp's 100 or so air-conditioned tents, a few of
which are decorated with Christmas lights. One tent's sign, "Keep off the
grass," jokes about the desert existence.
Although there's only dirt, concrete and gravel on post, it's a colorful
scene beyond the concertina wire.
In Djibouti City, home to two-thirds of the country's 600,000 people, women
in colorful robes dash about with goats tucked under their arms. The streets
are littered, but the city has a bustling market, open-air restaurants and
architecture attesting to its history as a French colony. At night, dozens of
restaurants, clubs and pubs are packed with locals, U.S. and French troops and
While some troops haven't ventured off post, others regularly take beach and
boat trips and visit Lake Assal, a massive salt lake surrounded by volcanoes.
Vehicles driving past crystal-clear deserted beaches must yield frequently for
camels and goats and the occasional baboon.
Some units don't allow their troops off post except for outings sponsored by
Morale, Welfare and Recreation, or for goodwill trips such as an orphanage
visit. Several troops play baseball with local orphans every week, and others
feed children at a baby orphanage.
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