The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff took time, February 24, 2011, during his whirlwind trip through the Middle East to visit with troops of Combined Joint Task Force - Horn of Africa, whose full-time focus is on maintaining stability and preventing conflict.
Navy Admiral Mike Mullen's visit was part of a week-long, six-country trip aimed at reassuring U.S. allies and hearing their views of the unfolding events surrounding unrest in the region.
In Djibouti, Mullen met with Major General Ahmed Housein Fathi, chief of the general staff, and other key military leaders. Djibouti experienced only small-scale protests that have quieted down, officials said, unlike Yemen and Libya, just across the Gulf of Aden.
A highlight of the day, Mullen said, was his visit to Combined Joint Task Force - Horn of Africa. Navy Rear Admiral Brian Losey, the task force commander, updated him on operations his 1,700 service members are conducting to provide not just security assistance but also humanitarian support and development to the Horn of Africa and Yemen.
The task force initially stood up in November 2002 as a seafaring force aimed at blocking terrorists fleeing Afghanistan from setting up a new safe haven here. But within six months, it moved ashore to this former French Foreign Legion base.
Today, the task force focuses on challenges in a region strategic because of its geographic location, resources and struggles with instability, officials told reporters traveling with Mullen.
The goal, said Army Brigadier General William L. Glasgow, deputy task force commander, is to help African nations build capability so they can promote regional security and stability and prevent conflict.
"We're building friendships with Africa and trying to help Africans solve African problems," said Army Specialist Gary McGoyne, deployed to Djibouti to provide security for the task force's stand-by pararescue medics.
The task force is a model of the "whole of government" approach that Mullen, Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates and others advocate for promoting U.S. security interests, Glasgow explained.
Military members in Djibouti work hand in hand with personnel from the State Department and U.S. Agency for International Development to create a stable climate that promotes a better quality of life for the local population, he said.
In doing so, they apply multiple elements of U.S. national power -- the so-called "three D's" of defense, diplomacy and development -- to their mission with an array of military-to-military efforts aimed at building capacity and humanitarian and civic-support activities.
Projects go beyond digging wells and building or refurbishing schools, with the task force ensuring that the host nations are able to sustain what's done and that the work contributes to the big-picture goals here. "Everything contributes to the long-term commitment we have," Glasgow said.
Glasgow described the service members undertaking these projects -- many operating far from Camp Lemonnier in three- to five-person teams -- as "strategic privates." Before being dispatched for these missions, they get full briefings about the job they'll be doing, but more importantly, why it matters and how it fits into the strategic mission here, he said.
Navy Petty Officer 1st Class Dennis Coffey, a motor pool chief who deployed to Djibouti last month, said he enjoys the opportunity to interact with local Djiboutians and recognizes the importance of the task force mission in promoting regional and even global stability. "It's very important that we are here to show our support," he said.
These initiatives fall directly in line with the "soft" elements of national power Gates wants to see beefed up so nonmilitary U.S. government entities can be stronger partners in advancing U.S. interests around the world.
Navy Commander Jeff Peterson, who works closely with embassy officials as officer in charge of the country coordination element, said this cooperation leads to "synergy and better results" in advancing U.S. objectives in Djibouti. Ultimately, he said, it supports "phase zero" -- a nonkinetic, stable and secure region where good governance and democracy can take hold.
As he walked through Camp Lemonnier, Mullen took time at every opportunity to shake hands and talk with service members, pose for photos and present them his official coin. Seeing operations on the ground, he said, gives him a "better feel for what is going on," adding that mingling with the service members deployed so far from home "made my day."