DJIBOUTI CITY, DJIBOUTI -- Marines and Sailors from the 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit took time to help renovate Ecole du Stade Primary School, during a community service project here Feb. 6-7.
During each day of the project, more than 100 troops from the unit painted chipped and peeling walls, picked up trash around the schoolyard, and spent time interacting with the curious locals who gathered at the site to watch the Marines' efforts.
The objective of the project was to continue improving positive relations with the local populace in the most direct way possible, said Capt. Christopher D. Roberson, commanding officer of K Battery, Battalion Landing Team 2/2, 26th MEU.
"We went straight to the community and its children," he explained. "We wanted to show them our intentions in this area are nothing but good."
The MEU got involved in the project after learning from Combined Joint Task Force-Horn of Africa's Civil Affairs unit that a plan to completely renovate much of the Ecole du Stade's facilities was in the works, and while contractors had been lined up to overhaul much of the interior of the building, the clean-up of the surrounding grounds and exterior had yet to be assigned to any group.
With only two days available to devote to the project, time was against the Marines and Sailors as they began the undertaking, said Roberson.
"There were a lot of things we wanted to do," he said. "And very little time for us to get it done in."
"Although the amount of work ahead was a little daunting at first, we welcomed the challenge," he continued.
Using teamwork and can-do attitude, the Marines and Sailors toiled for more than six hours each day as they got the job done and transformed the school's exterior.
When the dust settled, the troops' efforts had put more than 200 gallons of fresh paint on the school's walls and removed nine truckloads of trash and refuse from the playgrounds, said Roberson.
Although working hard as a team was a chief factor in finishing the project, the creativity and intuition the Marines and Sailors' put into their labor were most impressive to Roberson.
"It was the little things they did, like painting [the playground equipment] in the colors of the Djiboutian flag that I think the children and their teachers will really appreciate," he said.
In addition to reinforcing the quality of education the school's students receive, the troops' efforts have taught the children important life lessons, said Moussa Hadji Djama, the school's director.
"The children will never forget the work [the Marines and Sailors] have done here," he said.
"Before the [MEU's troops] came here, the word American probably meant military to the students," he continued. "Now the children will see them in a new context."
The two-day exposure to the Djiboutian culture left a positive mark on the Marines and Sailors as well, said Lance Cpl. Joseph D. Woods, an ammunition technician from K Battery.
"I feel like I'm actually helping people in need," explained the Scottdale, Pa., native. "These kids seemed really excited to see us," he said, adding, "I think we've really made a difference here."
The strides the troops made in forging positive relations with the community were apparent as soon as the project was completed, as Marines and Sailors joined locals for a soccer match in the street outside the school.
The 26th MEU departed the North Carolina Jan. 6 on a routine deployment as the landing force for the Bataan Expeditionary Strike Group. In addition to USS Bataan (LHD-5), the strike group is comprised of the USS Oak Hill (LSD-51), USS Shreveport (LPD-12), USS Nitze (DDG-94), USS Vella Gulf (CG-72), USS Underwood (FFG-36) and USS Scranton (SSN-756).
The Bataan ESG is currently supporting maritime security operations (MSO) in the U.S. Naval Forces Central Command area of operations. MSO help set the conditions for security and stability in the maritime environment, as well as complement the counter-terrorism and security efforts of regional nations. These operations deny international terrorists use of the maritime environment as a venue for attack or to transport personnel, weapons or other material.
For more on the MEU, including news, videos and contact information, visit www.usmc.mil/26thmeu.