OULMA, Djibouti -- U.S. Army Soldiers from the 403rd Civil Affairs Battalion Functional Specialty Team, assigned to Combined Joint Task Force-Horn of Africa, visited Oulma, Djibouti, Feb. 14, as part of a pre-deployment site visit.
They spent time at the remote village, which survives on goat herding and vegetable gardening, to engage local pastoralists, promote better herd-health management and facilitate communication for future engagements during veterinary civic action projects.
“With each region being different economically and geographically, you can’t take a canned approach to meeting the needs of each group,” said U.S. Army Lt. Col. Leah Tingley, a veterinarian assigned to the 403rd CA battalion. “The key is to get out there and listen to the people and what they need, so we can develop a plan to make a sustainable impact.”
The purpose of Civil Affairs VETCAPs is to build relationships with local community animal health workers and the Djiboutian Ministry of Livestock via animal health surveillance, and to improve knowledge, skills, livestock medicine and best practices.
Tingley said that approximately 80 percent of the country relies on agriculture, and improving practices will help Djiboutian communities in the long run as best practices are learned and shared.
With hundreds of animals utilized as food, income and transportation in the Oulma area, having healthy herds is important to improve quality-of-life and sustain the livelihood of the residents and nomads who reside in the oasis location.
“Goats are one of the staple foods here,” said Ahmed Ousman, an interpreter and 12-year resident of nearby Obock, Djibouti. “Most families own several animals that are used for milk, butter and meat. With the Army coming to educate owners and treat animals, there has been a continual improvement in herd health.”
Although the VETCAP was aimed to improve herd health, Tingley said there are benefits both ways. She stressed the importance of the experience her team gains while encountering animals they will most likely never see in a traditional U.S. environment.
“It’s rewarding to see the light in peoples eyes when they learn something new, but also the other way around when these people help me learn something and the light just turns on,” Tingley said. “I can’t help but smile.”
Serving under the CJTF-HOA, the CA battalion’s mission is spread across the combined joint operations area, ranging from veterinarian and medical assistance training to security training, in countries like Tanzania, Uganda and Kenya, to English discussion groups here in Djibouti -- all while working with leaders to foster a safe, stable, and secure Africa.