The U.S. Navy has led Combined Joint Task Force humanitarian and training efforts in the Horn of Africa for more than six years. Now it's time to return to mission number one: maintaining freedom of the seas.
In the summer of 2003, before the United States had accepted the fact that there were no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq and when our Navy was attempting to prevent al Qaeda from fleeing Afghanistan via Pakistan and by sea to the Horn of Africa and Somalia, the executive officer of the cruiser on which I was serving called me to his stateroom. "Do I have a great deal for you," he said. I nervously assumed that I had been summoned because of something I'd goofed up-maybe he'd found out I'd forgotten to do my spot check the previous week, or I was falling behind in my engineering qualification progress. It turned out to be nothing of the sort. The Navy surface ship type commander was canvassing the San Diego waterfront, looking for someone to go to Combined Joint Task Force Horn of Africa (CJTF-HOA) in Djibouti, Africa, as the naval surface fires support officer. I had never heard of Djibouti or CJTF-HOA or these things called individual augmentations, IAs, before. Nonetheless, as my ship's cruise missile and strike warfare officer I had gunnery and Tomahawk experience that would qualify me to fill this billet (though it was meant for a lieutenant commander), and my relief was on board, trained, and ready to take the lead in the division.