A Black Flag

I stepped onto the runway of the somewhat rustic airport in Djibouti, with Rooftop right behind me saying ‘Welcome to Fuckin Africa’ – as I quickly learned the reality of my new surroundings, The whole trip had been in inhospitable climates, this would be the most extreme of it. It was the middle of the night and the heat and humidity hit me in the face like laundromat exhaust air that didn’t smell like fabric softener. The whole place had a weird muggy haze, an unfamiliar sultry mix of a shoreline meeting an arid dusty peninsula.

Before going through customs, I stopped for a bathroom selfie with Morgan Wade from the Djibouti’“Ambouli International Airport, probably close to a hundred degrees, at midnight between the coast and the desert. The walls were sweating with humidity, We were in a conflict zone between Somalia and Yemen, at the same time as the Secretary of Defense. The Mirror, so dirty it barely held a reflection.

Standing in line at a small waiting area attached to where we flew in, my eyes wandered, dark, brooding men, in beret’s holding automatic weapons were security, military men, on a back drop of painted cinderblock walls, off white from years of cigarette smoke, anxiety and crazy weather. Some of the painted bricks had a clearly visible fault line making it’s way towards the ceiling, zig-zagging the staggered stack of the blocks, too stark to be a shadow, but not alarming enough to cause concern, just enough to notice while you wait.

This whole trip, we’ve had DV status, (distinguished visitor) which to my understanding was the same as the generals and real life celebrities. I thought it was kind of funny from the get go that we had military orders on behalf of Armed Forces Entertainment, from the Secretary of Defense, and now we were all in the Horn of Africa together. Regardless, we had to go through the customs protocol to legally enter another country, so we were separated and waited in a small room, one or two people at a time, in late night uncertainty and tired eyed worry about how it will play out.

We were allowed entry and were soon at the exit area awaiting transport to the base, which shared the same airstrip, loitering outside with locals, faux generous – half squirrelly, trying to hustle a few bucks, by offering to carry our luggage, everyone declined. A few moments later we were in another security checkpoint, this time to enter the base, and run by Americans, with almost no language barrier, except for the heavy southern drawl. Camp Lemmonier was being run by the Arkansas Army National Guard, under Navy command.

In-between the Gulf Of Aden and the Red Sea, on the Bab-El-Mandeb Straight, we were just miles from Yemen, and even closer to Somalia, next door to Eritrea and butting up to Ethiopia. We were Amidst Operation Enduring Freedom- Horn of Africa, and if I’m not mistaken, it was a hub for some serious special forces activity, something I am entirely unfamiliar with, and won’t pretend to know anything about. Many of the guys from Arkansas had an entirely different air about them then their more solemn contemporaries that largely kept to themselves.

I spent the next day or so staying in some con-ex condos, braving the heat for short walks around base in between tasks and before our first show. I was as out of place as I’ve ever been, staring at a Muslim cemetery, and burial ground, a tiny field of stones surrounded by military operations. Soon We would be gone, having nearly just enough time to realize how far from home we were. The only part of Djibouti I actually got to see was from the deck of a Navy Patrol boat warehoused on a trailer. The elevation changed just barely enough to notice the outskirts of a small city beyond the razor wire fencing, and sandy debis

News headlines about a mission out of this base immediately after we left reported casualties. Looking back,The over all vibe at Camp Lemonnier was as thick as the air we were trying to breathe, the heat stress flag status on the Horn of Africa was at its highest. A Black Flag hung from a pole, and here I am staring at a wall.

Steve Crandall

Coffee sipping pilot of a red FBM frame and a Nikon camera.