In the latter half of the twentieth century, the people of Mozambique have known very little peace.  After a ten-year war for independence from Portugal, Mozambique enjoyed just two short years of recovery before civil war broke out in 1977.  The two factions found themselves fighting their fellow countrymen in a proxy war funded and instigated by surrounding nations, with the Front for Liberation of Mozambique (FRELIMO) defending their new-found claim to rule against the Mozambique Resistance Movement (RENAMO), which opposed the Marxist ideals established by the ruling party, but received funding and support from white-ruled Rhodesia and (later) apartheid South Africa.

In the years to come, over a million people would die in Mozambique as a direct result of the fighting and five million more would lose their homes.  Both parties were accused of committing horrific war crimes, including mass executions and rape.   Finally, in 1992, the fighting ended and the roadwork was laid for the nations’ first multi-party election, which took place in 1994.  RENAMO accepted the role of the minority party, leaving the FRELIMO party in power as they had been since winning independence for the nation.

In 2010, I arrived in Mozambique’s capital city of Maputo as a part of a small group of Marines tasked with establishing a bivouac area for a main body of Marines, Soldiers and Airmen that were to arrive the following week.  We purchased a few Volkswagen busses in cash, and drove four hours north, where we were met by three of Mozambique’s personnel carriers – each full of FADM infantrymen that, it turned out, were rather surprised to find twenty or so American Marines trucking around in their backyard.  There, somewhere in the African savannah and in the middle of the night, our miniature convoy made up of two vans and a Humvee gun truck sat surrounded in an almost-polite standoff with the very military our operation had intended to support.

Things grew tense, before intervention from either the U.S. Ambassador we reached on our satellite phone or the local military general they contacted via radio (it was hard to tell, as only our CO spoke Portuguese) prompted them to permit us to set up camp nearby in an area they had cleared to play soccer.  A good portion of our small group were Marine Reservists and “red tabbers” (Marines that specialize in landing support) who hadn’t been authorized to carry any ammunition.  As a result, the four of us with rifles that could serve as more than just a fashion statement settled in to stand post while our logistics brothers and sisters got some rest.

Throughout the evening, we used our night vision goggles to watch the FADM patrols circle the field we camped in, and by morning, hundreds more had arrived.  As the sun came up, we received word that the larger convoy that was to arrive in the morning with additional Marines and supplies had been in an accident inside the city and wouldn’t be arriving as scheduled.  As our PFCs and Lance Corporals set about the arduous task of clearing land for the main body’s arrival, the four of us that had been standing post finally decided to split shifts sleeping.

By the time the convoy with our first resupply and the remainder of the advance party arrived, we had been without a source of water or food for more than two days, and the four of us on rotating security were on the verge of exhaustion.  I’ll never forget laughing as I watched a lance corporal fall out of the door of the seven-ton truck he arrived in, thinking to myself, “these are the guys we’ve been waiting for to come save us.”

Over the coming weeks, we would reconnect with the local military in a decidedly friendlier fashion, though the differences in our cultures sometimes brought tensions back to the surface.  When our makeshift chow hall told the locals we couldn’t provide them with any more food that day, they returned with AK-47s and had to be escorted away by a number of us that had learned a few phrases in their local dialect.  When Public Affairs Marine arrived, the local general took her and I aside, inside our COC (Combat Operations Center), and explained that she was not to travel anywhere unaccompanied because, he “knew what he would do to her if he caught her, and his men would likely do the same.”  Tensions dissipated entirely, however, once the remaining nine hundred or so American personnel arrived in our small, but growing, camp.

A veritable city sprung up over night once the main body arrived.

I had the opportunity to work with a FADM Lieutenant and translator as we prepared for the arrival of the American Ambassador to Mozambique and the brief assembly the locals had put together as a show of good will.  The following is an excerpt from a piece I wrote that day: