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NEWS | May 4, 2020

International Life During COVID-19

By Capt. Michael Reinersman, 133rd Mobile Public Affairs Detachment

The Kentucky National Guard intends to maintain close contact with Djibouti and Ecuador to build upon their strategic relationship during and after the COVID-19 pandemic.

Both our partners in the State Partnership Program (SPP) have been fighting the same virus. This has truly been a global pandemic.

The job of maintaining those relationships falls in part to the Bilateral Affairs Officer (BAO). For the Kentucky National Guard, that critical, international position is held by Maj. Jonathan Holliday.

Holliday is assigned to the U.S. Embassy in Djibouti, Africa as the BAO. Holliday replaced Maj. Christopher Hettinger after his two-year assignment as BAO ended in August 2019.

“The Government of Djibouti acted rapidly and decisively to try to stop the influx of people who may be infected with the virus.” said Holliday. “Their first reaction was to ban all travel into and out of the country.”

On March 15, 2020, the Government of Djibouti announced the closure of all land, sea, and air borders effective March 18, 2020. The Government has been accommodating of requests to get those Americans out who may be at high risk or for other important reasons.

“We determined that flying on a crowded plane was much more of a risk than self-quarantining in our house.” said Holliday. “I also have a mission that would be complicated by leaving.”

The U.S Embassy has followed the direction of the government by restricting work to essential personnel. Holliday and his wife, Jessica and three children, have been working during home confinement at their residence in Djibouti City.

“Our biggest concern was access to food, but it hasn’t been an issue yet,” said Holliday. “Djibouti has many large supermarkets, and they have remained open and stocked. US Embassy has reduced hours for the already limited commissary, and Amazon deliveries have almost ceased. As Americans, these now restricted sources are where we get name brand foods that are more familiar to us, but we get meats, fruits, and vegetables from the local economy.”

According to Holliday, Djibouti’s state-owned telecommunications company suspended payment for internet and phone service during the lockdown. So, essentially, internet and phone service is free until the home confinement order is lifted.

Very early in the epidemic, Holliday attended meetings at the Djibouti Ministry of Health.

Djibouti’s population is under one million, with 70 percent of the population living in the capital, the government considers the virus a dire threat. The Djiboutian military health officers are leading the response to COVID-19.

“The pandemic is still in the active and community phase.” said Dr. Saleh Banoita Tourab, Ministry of Health Secretary, during a press briefing on the COVID-19 Situation April 19, 2020. The measures capable of bending the ascension curve of the disease remain.

Many of the strategies to prevent the spread of the deadly virus have mimicked what many other countries around the world have done, from closing schools, home confinement, social distancing, frequent hand washing, closing non-essential businesses to suggesting the use of masks and canceling public social activities.

In addition to COVID-19, heavy rains triggered widespread flash floods across Djibouti April 21. Holliday also serves as the overseas Humanitarian Disaster, Assistance, and Civic Aid (OHDACA) Program Manager for the Office of Security Cooperation.

Holliday foresees the next small engagement with Kentucky National Guard and possibly the Kentucky Department of Public Health to exchange best practices with Djiboutian military health officers during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Since 1996, Ecuador is the Kentucky National Guard’s other SPP partner.

The State Partnership Program has been successfully building relationships for over 25 years and now includes 78 partnerships with 84 nations around the globe. SPP links a unique component of the Department of Defense – a state’s National Guard – with the armed forces or equivalent of a partner country in a cooperative, mutually beneficial relationship.

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