USS MAHAN At Sea (NNS) -- One aerographer's mate, who originally requested an individual agumentee (IA) assignment to Baghdad, found herself in another part of the 5th Fleet Area of Responsibility where she learned professional and personal lessons that served her well.
"I learned the different weather regimes for the Horn of Africa thinking I'd never use them again," said Aerographer's Mate 2nd Class Angela Fleischer about her assignment to Camp Lemonier, Djibouti. "What do you know, one year later, I'm in the same area of the world during the same time of year.
"It makes my job a little easier from a forecasting standpoint."
She is currently temporarily assigned to the guided- missile destroyer USS Mahan (DDG 72) in support of Combined Task Force (CTF) 151. CTF 151 is a multinational task force conducting counterpiracy operations in and around the Gulf of Aden, Arabian Sea, Indian Ocean and Red Sea. CTF 151 was established to create a lawful maritime order and develop security in the maritime environment.
The Camp Lemonier mission involves Sailors, Soldiers, Airmen, Marines, Djiboutians and others from coalition countries working together.
Fleischer says this experience made her feel like she was truly making a difference. She believes the data she provided had a direct impact on the lives of the Somali and Djibouti refugees in the region.
"The information I was providing was being used to make a difference in their lives and their world. That's an incredible feeling that I never would have gotten had I gone anywhere else," said Fleischer.
"Personally, I realized what's important in life. I mean you always know what's really important, but sometimes that stuff gets blurred out with hype of the newest cell phones, the latest thing from iPod and whatever it is that the media says 'you gotta have'."
The Baltimore, Ohio, native encourages other Sailors to take advantage of IA opportunities.
"Do it. Djibouti wasn't my first pick, but when those orders got taken and they asked if I'd be interested in going somewhere else, I said 'sure; I'll take the next trip leaving.' When they said it was Djibouti, I wanted to retract my previous statement.
"I had a great time though, met a lot of awesome people and saw a part of the world few get to see."
En route to Djibouti, Fleischer went through pre-IA deployment training, where she was briefed on what to expect when she arrived at her destination, including lodging and local customs.
"For me it was mostly a mental preparation," said Fleischer. "We all knew where we were going, but none of us really knew what we were getting ourselves into."
Pre-IA deployment training involves various scenarios which mentally and physically prepare those deploying for situations they may encounter while support joint and combined service missions.
"IA training was a blast! It's like someone took the idea of boot camp and made it fun," explained Fleischer. "I never thought in my rate that I'd ever be all decked out in Kevlar, carrying an M-16, kicking down doors and rolling in the dirt.
"The instructors are really cool. They aren't there to yell at you, they're there to help you succeed and they take the extra time to get you to the level you need to be at before you get to where you're going."
Once she arrived in Djibouti, Fleischer learned just how much operational impact her job had.
Her duties included forecasting weather patterns for the entire Horn of Africa -- from Sudan down to Tanzania and from Uganda over to Madagascar, Comoros, Seychelles and Yemen. She provided daily briefings to the commodore and admiral, as well as flight weather briefs for the pilots prior to their daily reconnaissance missions.
Other tasks involved providing climatology data to the Army personnel in Djibouti to assist them while they planned well-digging projects. She also gave vital weather information to the Seabees which related to their bridge, orphanage and school building projects.
"Building a bridge during the rainy season can be a safety issue for our guys," said Fleischer. "Everything they [CJTF-HOA] did was well thought out and took months of planning at times."
This aerographer's mate learned how important preplanning was to each mission. For example, for digging a well, every detail had to be meticulously coordinated so that when the Soldiers were dropped off at a location to carry out their missions, they would have all of the food, supplies and equipment needed to last them the entire job.
"This was all planned around the weather and when would be the best time of the year for that particular area," she explained. "Negative weather conditions create loss of work days and the need for more logistics support."
At the time of her IA, Fleischer was stationed at Strike Group Oceanography Team Norfolk, which is still her parent command, even though she's deployed to Mahan.
For more news from Combined Task Force 151, visit www.navy.mil/local/CTF-151/.