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Marine Leads Civil Affairs Program for Village in Djibouti
When Sergeant. Matthew O'Brian first learned he would be deploying with his battalion to Djibouti, Africa, he was interested, albeit a bit perplexed, with the news. In an interview in March, 2008, O'Brian describes his initial thoughts upon
When Sergeant. Matthew O'Brian first learned he would be deploying with his battalion to Djibouti, Africa, he was interested, albeit a bit perplexed, with the news. In an interview in March, 2008, O'Brian describes his initial thoughts upon learning about this assignment, his motivations for joining the Marine Corps and his goals as lead civil affairs liaison in a village called Chebellier.

"I remember thinking to myself, what the heck is in Africa," said O'Brian, who is assigned to a U.S. Marine Corps air defense battalion. "I knew there were military personnel working in the Horn of Africa, but I didn't really understand the necessity of having an active-duty Marine battalion there."

O'Brian's questions were soon answered when the Marines, home-based in Camp Pendleton, California, took over as the primary security force for Camp Lemonnier. In addition, the Marines are actively involved with the Djiboutian community through their civil affairs program, something O'Brian, a Nashville, Tennessee native, has fully committed himself to.

That same commitment may explain why O'Brian left a promising job and a college education to enlist in the Marines shortly after the tragic events of September 11, 2001.

"I had a good job as a supervisor with the United Parcel Service and I was going to college," explained O'Brian. â?We were wrapping up the morning shift one day when someone came over to our group and told us an airplane had crashed into the World Trade Center."

O'Brian spent the next hour glued to a television in the break room, watching the chaos unfold as ash and debris rained down on the citizens of New York like winter snowfall. He wanted payback, and he wanted it now.

"Our country had been hit, and I wanted to do what I could to help out," said O'Brian. "I had always wanted to join the Marine Corps, so I decided that it was time to either put up or shut up."

More than six years and two deployments later, O'Brian finds himself as a prominent figure in 3rd LAAD Battalion's civil affairs program, which is aimed at winning the hearts and minds of the local Djiboutian populace.

An expansion of what was previously done by past units, the civil affairs program has been evolutionary in nature, with each provisional security company building upon the successes of their predecessor, said Marine Captain Christopher Crim, Commanding Officer of Battery B, 3rd LAAD Battalion.

Crim decided to have section leaders assigned to individual villages to ensure each one received the time and attention they deserved. O'Brian was an obvious choice due to his work ethic and knowledge of the Somali language.

"One day a gunnery sergeant came in and asked us if anyone wanted to be the lead civil affairs liaison for a village called Chebellier. All the Marines turned and looked right at me because they knew I had been learning Somali, so I decided to do it," said O'Brian.

Surrounded by barren landscape and an endless supply of volcanic rock, Chebellier is a quaint village with a rustic charm to it. The villagers are friendly and always greet their guests with smiles and handshakes, but like most villages in the region, they are poor and in need of assistance.

"I was itching to start my work in the village because I like doing community service," explained O'Brian. "I felt like it was a part of my duty to go out there and do what I could to help those people out; but I don't do it out of pity, although these people are in need. I figured that if we have the money, the means and the manpower, then why not?"

With the help of his Marines, O'Brian has constructed a new well cover, handed out countless supplies, set up a movie night for the children and, most importantly, assisted the adults with building their own gardens, a move O'Brian hopes will set a precedent for future generations.

"One of my main goals for the village has always been self-reliance," said O'Brian. "I know they have the ability to grow food, so rather than have them be dependent on us, I told them I would provide seeds if they built the gardens."

Though his time is almost up, O'Brian would like to have electricity built into the school, along with more school supplies and English textbooks.

Marines like Crim have recognized the efforts of O'Brian, who took a village of strangers under his wing and made every effort to better the lives of his newfound friends.

"I think he's done a great job; I don't have to proud him to do more or be more involved. In fact it's the opposite, because sometimes I have to pull him back because he's so willing and eager to go above and beyond," said Crim. "He's taken the time to learn the language and communicate with the locals, which shows them he cares about their culture."

O'Brian will remember his time in Chebellier with much fondness, always remembering the work his Marines accomplished and the lives they touched.

"My best memory of Chebellier will be knowing that we did a good job and made a difference. We didn't sit on our butts for six months and we went out there because we wanted to, not because we had to," said O'Brian.

Upon his return from Africa, O'Brian will attend Drill Instructor School at Marine Corps Recruit Depot, Parris Island, South Carolina.