Josh Thonnissen: Seabee on mission in Djibouti

Written by David Green.


Join the Navy and see the world.

That’s how it’s working for 2003 Morenci graduate Joshua Thonnissen. He signed up for six years as a Navy Seabee (Construction Brigade) and so far he’s visited Germany, Afghanistan, Iraq and Djibouti.

josh-thonnissen As Thonnissen is finding out, it’s not just seeing the world; it’s also helping the world.

He’s a little more than a month into a six- to-eight month deployment in Djibouti—in the Horn of Africa—and he’s spending plenty of time helping out the local residents of Tadjoura, the oldest town in the country.

If asked, most people probably couldn’t find Djibouti on the map and up until a few weeks ago, Thonnissen would probably have put himself in that group. He’d heard of it, but that’s about it. That situation changed quickly.

Now he knows the country is considered an important partner in the United States’s global war on terrorism through Operation Enduring Freedom. About 1,500 U.S. Army, Marine and Navy troops are stationed in the country for counter-terrorism efforts.

For a Seabee like Thonnissen, that means helping to improve conditions for local citizens.

“Our mission is to improve their lives,” he said, “to win the hearts and minds. We want them to understand that we’re here to help them out.”

During Thonnissen’s first five weeks in the country, he’s joined in an effort to make physical improvements at dormitories housing orphans. The troops also spend time playing with kids.

“We play soccer, basketball and football,” he said. “We have a lot of interaction with the local people since we’re living right around them.”

Interaction is limited somewhat by language barriers in the formerly French territory, but that doesn’t stop the fun.

“There’s a language barrier,” Thonnissen said, “but they mostly understand what you’re talking about.”

Thonnissen describes Djibouti as a hot, dry, dusty, windy land with some vegetation but still rather desert-like.

“There’s a lot of lava rock and not a lot of flat land,” he said.

Not only are there mountains as high as 6,700 feet, Djibouti also features the lowest spot in Africa.

The country of 480,000 people is about the size of Massachusetts, but has only about 226 miles of paved road. The unemployment rate stands at 50 percent, and little land is arable.

However, its location at the mouth of the Red Sea gives the country important strategic standing, as well as offering a port for the shipment of goods in and out of the African highlands to the west. One of the world’s busiest shipping lanes lies off Djibouti’s coast. The only U.S. military base in sub-Sahara Africa is located in the country, across the bay from Tadjoura.

Thonnissen’s interaction with the local people goes beyond soccer with the kids. During their spare time, troops often swim at the beach or visit a local bar.

“We get to meet a lot of interesting people,” he said.

It was about two years ago that Thonnissen began boot camp before moving on to 18 weeks of vocational school. He’s been to many classes throughout his enlistment, although not usually while on deployment.

“I’m having fun so far,” he said about his time in Djibouti. “Time is going by fairly fast.”

Still, he admits, you start to miss your family after a while overseas.

He has no idea what might come up next—a trip back to his home base in Mississippi or further deployment around the world.

“I’ve seen quite a bit of the world so far,” he said, but he’s looking forward to exploring even more.

  - March 22, 2006


  • Front.cowboy
    A PERFORMER named Biligbaatar, a member of the AnDa Union troupe from Inner Mongolia, dances at Stair District Library last week during a visit to the Midwest. The nine-member group blends a variety of traditions from Inner and Outer Mongolia. The music is described as drawing from “all the Mongol tribes that Genghis Khan unified.” The group considers itself music gatherers whose goal is to preserve traditional sounds of Mongolia. Biligbaatar grew up among traditional herders who live in yurts. Additional photos are on the back page of this week’s Observer.
  • Front.base Ball
    UMPIRE Thomas Henthorn tosses the bat between team captains Mikayla Price and Chuck Piskoti of Flint’s Lumber City Base Ball Club. Following the 1860 rules, after the bat was grabbed by the captains, captains’ hands advanced to the top of the bat—one hand on top of the other. The captain whose hand ended up on top decided who would bat first. Additional photos of Sunday’s game appear on page 12 of this week’s Observer. The contest was organized in conjunction with Stair District Library’s Hometown Teams exhibit that runs through Nov. 20.
    VALUE OF ATHLETICS—Morenci graduate John Bancroft (center) takes a turn at the microphone during a chat session at the opening of the Hometown Teams exhibit at Stair District Library. Clockwise to his left is John Dillon, Jed Hall, Jim Bauer, Joe Farquhar, George Hollstein, George Vereecke and Mike McDowell. Thomas Henthorn (at the podium) kicked off the conversation. Henthorn, a University of Michigan–Flint professor, will return to Morenci this Sunday to lead a game of vintage base ball at the school softball field.
  • Front.cross
    HUDSON RUNNER Jacob Morgan looks toward the top of the hill with dismay during the tough finish at Harrison Lake State Park. Fayette runner Jacob Garrow focuses on the summit, also, during the Eagle Invitational cross country run Saturday morning. Continuing rain and drizzle made the course even more challenging. Results of the race are in this week’s Observer.
  • Front.bear
    HOLDEN HUTCHISON gives a hug to a black bear cub—the product of a taxidermist’s skills—at the Michigan DNR’s Great Youth Jamboree. The event on Sunday marked the fourth year of the Jamboree. Additional photos are on page 12.
  • Front.crossing
    Crossing over—Jim Heiney was given a U.S. flag to carry by George Vereecke (behind Jim in the hat), turning him into the leader of the parade. Bridge Walk participants cross over Bean Creek while, in the background, members of the Morenci Legion Riders cross the main traffic bridge on East Street South. Additional photos appear on the back page of this week’s Observer.
  • Front.hose Testing
    HOSE safety—The FireCatt hose testing company from Troy put Morenci Fire Department hose to the test Monday morning when Mill Street was closed to traffic. The company also checks nozzles and ladders for wear in an effort to keep fire fighters safe while on calls.

Weekly newspaper serving SE Michigan and NW Ohio - State Line Observer ©2006-2016