Everyone loves volleyball. Whether it’s at the company picnic (with Pam Beasley serving underhand aces), at your family barbecue (where you have that one cousin who goes way too hard and hits grandma in the face), indoor overseas (volleyball is the world’s second favorite sport behind soccer), or on the beach at an AVP event (the best kind of volleyball there is)- people just love the game.
One place you may not expect volleyball lovers, or clinics for that matter, is on US Military bases across the globe. AVP pros have been completing USO Goodwill Tours for years now, traveling to the far reaches of America’s military might and teaching our soldiers the love of the game. Everyone I’ve talked to who’s been on the tours cannot stop ranting about how fun, rewarding, and memorable they are.
Ty Loomis is one of the USO Tour’s champions and has learned so much from his travels. “Beach volleyball has been an inspirational tool to unite us all across the world,” he says. “Our goal as athletes on these USO trips is always to have the best day ever with the military men and women by sharing every ounce of love, affection, hugs, laughs, and smiles. And then to impart as much beach volleyball wisdom as possible. We gave back to our troops in the best way we knew how – through competition, exercise, inspirational and motivational talks, listening, living in the moment, listening to good music, and celebrating mental and physical wellbeing through sport. And they taught us invaluable life lessons – punctuality, commitment, camaraderie, dedication, honor, loyalty, motivation, respect and never to complain.”
The most recent USO tour was February 23- 29. Ty Loomis couldn’t attend, but his partner in crime and former AVP pro Ty Tramblie led the group to Djibouti, Africa. Jace Pardon, Katie Spieler, and Allie Wheeler also attended, and from their stories, it sounds like they had the time of their lives. Even though they went in February, their tour was cut short by the spread of COVID-19. Because of that, the team stayed on one military base the whole time instead of touring the six they originally intended. Though unexpected, the change in events led to deeper connections with the men and women in Djibouti, and a deeper understanding of the country itself.
I asked Jace Pardon to sum up the trip. When I received her email entitled “Juicy in Djibouti,” I couldn’t wait to find out what was juicy and why that was the way she remembered her trip.
It was the first Goodwill Tour for three of us (myself, Katie Spieler and Allie Wheeler) and though we were not sure what to expect we were all brimming with excitement for this new adventure. We were first welcomed to Djibouti by the happiest man on Earth, Dinu, a Sri Lankan employee that works on base who acted as a guide during our time in Djibouti. We received a small glimpse of Djibouti in our time traveling to and from the airport but spent no time exploring the city due to health and safety purposes.
Once on base, I was impressed with how many American amenities were available to us in the middle of Djibouti, Africa. Essentially with a few thousand people living there, it feels like a small American town, equipped with a coffee house, Subway, Pizza Hut, and convenience store. The Subway and Pizza Hut were hot spots for us as they were 2 of the few spaces with Wifi. We also enjoyed the convenience store which had some great t-shirts that we bought as relics from the trip which included punny sayings such as “brains, beauty, Djibouti,” “lost in Djibouti,” and “Have a Djibouti-ful day.” However, the best purchase of the trip was by Katie. She got a 90%-off fanny pack decorated with a gold chain and the word “JUICY” on its exterior. I think it is safe to say that the crew did our best to keep it juicy in Djibouti.
Each morning on base started with us going to ‘chow’, a cafeteria-style dining hall offering standard American foods including an abundance of fresh produce. From breakfast, we’d venture to visit different members of the military and see what they do on a day-to-day basis. We met many members from the Army, Navy and Air Force along with commanding and executive officers, special forces (including the bomb squad- so cool), and one of our favorite members of the military – Timmy – a dog in the canine unit. Members of the military are deployed for six months to a year and are only allowed limited time off the base for security reasons. This made our visit highly rewarding and helped us be all the more appreciative of the sacrifices our armed forces make to protect our country. One of our on-base adventures included wearing an 88-pound bomb suit in which I attempted to pepper in, while the others were braver and tried to do pull-ups.
We learned so much on our trip, and I wanted to share some of the little-known fun facts that we picked up along the way.
- One of the only animals allowed on-base is a mongoose because they eat snakes.
- The US military is the second-biggest employer in the country with 1200 Djiboutians (pronounced “Ji-boo-shins) employed on base. Mind you — there are around 1.3 million people in Djibouti. Their unemployment rate is devastatingly high.
- A ‘Djibouti Tumbleweed’ is a blue plastic bag flying in the wind. Djibouti is a third world country and sometimes the citizens disregard their city by littering their streets with trash.
- The Commanding Officer mentioned to us that the base had the cleanest water on the continent. They work really hard to get their soldiers fresh produce from anywhere they can. It’s hard to grow food locally because of the rough terrain, so there isn’t much fresh produce available locally.
- Most items are imported from Ethiopia due to that rough terrain. That’s one of the reasons why the country is so poor. Luckily, they have an active port that other countries pay them for access to.
The trip was enlightening and a ton of fun. It made me feel a great deal of respect and gratitude to be from somewhere like the US where everything we want is essentially at our fingertips. Overall, our experience was extremely rewarding and left me feeling grateful for our American soldiers, our country, and my life at home.