A native of Tampa, Marine Sgt. Maj. Tim DeGrauwe grew up on Davis Islands and enlisted in the Marines shortly after graduating from Tampa Tech in 1978. Married to a career Marine who just retired after 24 years, his family is used to danger – from his deployment during Operation Iraqi Freedom to his civilian job as a SWAT police officer in Richmond, Va. DeGrauwe currently works with the 6th Provisional Security Company stationed in Djibouti, Africa. He spoke with Tribune correspondent MyLinh Shattan recently.
Tell us about your assignment. I’m calling from Djibouti, Africa. We’re the 6th Provisional Security Company and we’re in charge of all the base security such as perimeter, internal and external security. Our parent unit is from Virginia Beach, Va. This is my second combat tour. I did one in 2005, OIF [Operation Iraqi Freedom] in Iraq and one year later, I’m now here in Djibouti. We got here in February and we’re scheduled to leave in the fall. We’re manning six positions for security, entry and exit control points, observation points and things like that. We have security patrols that go outside the wire and go mostly south because we are nine miles from the Somali border.
What is your unit’s mission? Our company’s mission is to deter, detect, defend and mitigate terrorist activity in order to provide a stable platform for the Combined Joint Task Force, Horn of Africa, to accomplish their mission. We’re the Marines who are manning the wire. We also provide internal security, a quick reaction force and localized patrolling. It’s twofold; We do combat patrols for security and civil action patrols to get out and do an outreach with civilian population. The Djiboutian people love Americans so we’d like to project a strong outward appearance on terrorism.
Have you dealt with any terrorist activity? Knock on wood, we have not had a terrorist incident. There’s always the threat.
Talk about the civil action patrols. What we’re trying to do is reach out to the next generation of Djiboutians, the kids. We’ll go to the orphanages and play soccer with them, assist in building any type of upgrades. We get soccer balls that will get mailed to us and take them out with us. Our executive officer noticed a lot of children didn’t have flip flops. He called back, so the next thing you know, we got thousands of them sent over here. Every time we go out we take boxes of flip flops since a lot of kids don’t have shoes. They’re really good kids and they go crazy over them. They like soccer; they’re like any kid anywhere in the world.
What is your impression of Africa? It’s better than I thought it would be. What I’ve noticed is there’s a lot of port activity. It’s a beautiful place to come for tourism, which is something they’re trying to branch into now. There’s beautiful diving, snorkeling, nice places along the coast to relax. It’s going to turn into very good tourism. If they continue the way they’re going, this place could be just like Dubai.
Tell us about growing up in Florida. I grew up on Davis Islands. I went to and graduated from Tampa Tech in 1978 and I still have some of my friends there. I left in 1980 when I joined the Marines. I went into reserves right after Dessert Storm in 1991 and joined the police department in Virginia. I did three tours of duty in Richmond. I met a VA girl in ’83 who was a Marine and fell in love with her and Virginia.
We go to Florida to see friends and family. My daughter spends more time in Florida than we do. She was in Virginia Tech when the incident occurred, so she jumped on a plane to Tampa. Her fiance is in Tampa. He just graduated from the engineering department at Virginia Tech and knew a lot of the victims and professors. She flew back to VA Tech and is back to school today. It’s really surreal when you know people. She’s in her junior year and will graduate in December. I have a son getting ready to go to college and a three-year-old.
What’s the worst aspect of this deployment, the best? I don’t think I have a “worst.” But the best is just the amazement of the young Marines. Us old-timers refer back to the old Corps. The kids nowadays are smarter, faster, they’re really good kids, I don’t know where we find them. You’re just amazed at these kids 19, 20, 22 years old that give up everything, college, to go overseas to do this for their country in a time of war. We call this the long war because it is. It’s a marathon, not a sprint.
Tribune correspondent MyLinh Shattan can be reached at email@example.com