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NEWS | May 3, 2023

MSRON 8 keeps U.S. Personnel, Assets Safe in Djibouti

By Lt.j.g. Victoria Piccoli

This geographically strategic location presents a variety of challenges and threats from violent extremist organizations to U.S. strategic competitors.

With these ever-present threats, U.S. service members, vessels, and allied ships who enter the Port of Djibouti are safe due to Maritime Expeditionary Security Squadron EIGHT, assigned to Camp Lemonnier, which provides security and force protection.

“MSRON 8 and our partners are focused on force protection at this strategic choke point – we ensure our allies and U.S. vessels can safely use the Port of Djibouti,” said Cmdr. Kevin Sullivan, MSRON 8 mission commander. “Our mission puts these Sailors in harm’s way, and they handle these situations with professionalism.”

Maritime Expeditionary Security Squadrons, or MSRONs, have deployed to key maritime areas to protect vulnerable U.S. vessels since October 2000 after the deadly suicide bombing by al-Qaeda on the USS COLE. MSRONs have now been deployed and attached to CLDJ since 2009.

“MSRON 8 continues to support multiple real-world operations in the Horn of Africa, and we have participated in multinational and multiservice exercises like Operation Bull Shark,” said Boatswain’s Mate First Class Scott Graham, patrol lead.

Today, there are 90 Sailors with 15 different rates currently deployed with MSRON 8.

“It is an interesting dynamic having such a variety of different rates,” said Sullivan. “Our mission focuses on force protection, and when we go on a mission the lines between rates and watch stations come together to create a highly versatile team. We have Logistics Specialists leading convoys, Construction Mechanics providing security, and Information Systems Technicians driving patrol boats.”

MSRON 8’s headquarters is in Naval Station Newport, Rhode Island, and Sailors come from multiple northeast states such as New York and New Jersey to Connecticut and Massachusetts.

During the early stages of pre-deployment training, MSRON 8 worked hard to receive critical qualifications and build their bond as a unit, said Graham.

“It was hard to leave our families, but we put in the hard work and it has paid off,” said Graham. “When we are working as a team, we are locked in and there is no better unit.”

As Reservists, MSRON 8 Sailors can use their Navy training, civilian education, and professional experience to help tackle challenges and complete the mission.

“The skillsets MSRON 8 has are vast and it works. We bring experience from a wide variety of civilian occupations, allowing us to be an experienced and flexible force,” said Sullivan.

The flexibility and different perspective that MSRON 8 Sailors provide is clear in their support to training allies and partner nation maritime forces.
For MSRON 8, a part of ensuring safety for U.S. assets in Djibouti is collaborating with regional naval forces, mainly the Djiboutian Navy, for training opportunities and sharing best practices.

“We expanded our support to regional partners to three times a week, where MSRON 8 members teach seamanship, navigation, and English language classes to Djiboutian naval service members,” said Graham. “These courses help the Djiboutian Navy become proficient and develop their skillsets.”

Graham, who has deployed to Camp Lemonnier in 2016 with a previous MSRON iteration, currently is a patrol leader but also leads the training and partnership efforts with the Djiboutian Navy.

“I take pride in what I do and when training other people,” said Graham. “During my first deployment here in 2016 I didn’t get this experience to train and connect with our partners.”

MSRON 8 has taught over 40 members of the Djiboutian Naval Forces and graduated two classes over the course of the deployment, said Graham.
CLDJ works by, with, and through Djiboutian government partners in maintaining regional stability and supporting humanitarian efforts in Djibouti.

“This support and training is unique to what the U.S. does in Djibouti, and no other nation in Djibouti engages with the Djiboutian Navy on this level,” said Sullivan.

The relationships that MSRON 8 has built enrich the longstanding partnership between the U.S. service members and Djiboutians.

“We have a large group of younger Sailors where this is their first deployment experience,” said Sullivan. “These Sailors are looking for additional experiences beyond the traditional mission set and we are seeing an increase in volunteering and training in the community this iteration.”

MSRON 8 is scheduled to redeploy back to Naval Station Newport in June 2023, and turn over the partner nation training and CLDJ’s port operations to MSRON 11.

“It has been an honor to see the Sailors grow and mature over the full deployment cycle,” said Sullivan. “MSRON 8 has shown that the Reserves provides unique support and extra depth to the active duty while supporting high-level missions and ensuring national security.”