American volunteers gift soccer field to Djiboutian village

by MSgt. Erik V. Larson
776th EABS

On December 30, 2019, American military service members assigned to serve in East Africa joined host nation villagers in a Grand Opening Ceremony and Inaugural Game commemorating the completion of an extensive soccer field renovation. The field is located in the outskirts of the Djiboutian village named Chabelley, which is approximately two miles southeast of the American Military airfield of the same name. The renovation project was a gift from the American volunteers to the local villagers.

The renovation project turned the previous undeveloped field into a safe and fully functioning soccer field. The construction project included leveling, filling eroded areas, and the digging of a canal to divert flooding which will protect the field from further erosion. Also constructed were goals, bleachers, and benches along with 75 feet of fence behind both goals to catch stray balls. The completion of the field was the culmination of a 5-month project carried out entirely with donated funds and volunteer labor, without the aid of US Government or Military resources.

The Grand Opening Ceremony, held at the newly renovated soccer field, was presided by host nation dignitaries including Sous-préfet du Damerjog Abadi-Chaid Youssef, Chabelley Village Elder Abdi Bahdon, and in the presence of Mr. Larry Andre’, Ambassador of the United States to Djibouti.

Approximately two hundred attended the ceremony comprising of Americans stationed at Chabelley Airfield and Camp Lemonnier along with local villagers to include Djiboutian and American Military authorities. Key leaders included the Gendarmerie Chief of Police, Deputy Commander of Combined Joint Task Force Horn of Africa, 449 Air Expeditionary Group Commander, and 776 Expeditionary Air Base Squadron Commander.

United States Air Force Staff Sergeant Carlos Ortega performed emcee duties in which he read a few paragraphs highlighting the history of the field and the sponsorship of the Ramstein Enlisted Spouse’s Club and Spirit of America. Additional recognition was given to the manual labor performed by American volunteers and the contributions of local vendors. The US Ambassador and the Sous-préfet were then introduced and each gave a few words emphasizing the significance of the day’s events.

An inaugural game between the Americans and Djiboutian villagers immediately followed the ceremony. The game proved to be more than just an exhibition. It was a highly contested match ending in a 2-2 tie with both sides sharing in well-earned bruises, but in the end the game proved to unite players from different countries in the bond of friendship. The following day members of the 492 Battalion, Army Civil Engineering that provided the bulk of the construction were recognized with letters of appreciation and coining by the 776 EABS Commander.

The soccer field renovation laid the foundation for stronger relationships between the two cultures and soccer games are expected to be held regularly.

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