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    Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu strengthens camaraderie, build trust at Camp Lemonnier

    Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu strengthens camaraderie, build trust at Camp Lemonnier

    Photo By Staff Sgt. Leslie Keopka | U.S. Air Force Senior Master Sgt. Christopher Easter, Combined Joint Task Force-Horn...... read more read more



    Story by Staff Sgt. Leslie Keopka 

    Combined Joint Task Force - Horn of Africa

    CAMP LEMONNIER, Djibouti – A room full of traditional GIs wrap around in a circle watching sweat pour off the poor soul about to tap out and smelling the sweat, tears and determination of the blue belt grappling with a highly skilled black belt. Onlookers watch as grapplers master their techniques.

    Learning defensive and offensive grappling moves with a Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu black belt is how several Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen, Marines and coalition partners choose to spend their deployed evenings at Camp Lemonnier, Djibouti. The camp is the U.S.-only base on the continent. The joint task force's mission is to assist East African nations in neutralizing violent extremist organizations and Djibouti serves as global strategic access point.

    Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu is a martial art and combat sport that uses leverage and self-defense techniques to take down an opponent. It focuses on ground fighting, striking and grappling.

    U.S. Air Force Senior Master Sgt. Christopher Easter, Combined Joint Task Force-Horn of Africa, intelligence senior enlisted leader and black belt, has trained more than 200 individuals on moves and tactics and devotes six days a week to sessions. He offers his experience and expertise on the sport to help his students advance in their practices.

    Easter began his fighting career during middle school, started jiu-jitsu in 1998 and has loved it ever since. Training others was something he always wanted to do, he said. He also trains others in mixed martial arts.

    “I have always been involved in martial arts, but it was always just striking,” said Easter. “I saw the grappling aspect of jiu-jitsu and it was something I wanted to do; I was drawn to it.”

    This is the first deployment Easter has been on where he has had the opportunity, space and people to coach. He has taken full advantage of this, Easter said.

    During his six-month deployment to Djibouti, Easter has trained U.S. service members, U.K. teammates and several French counterparts from the neighboring French base. He has promoted three individuals to blue belt and one to purple belt.

    “Training here helps to build relationships with our joint and multinational partners,” Easter said. “It is a place where we can go and not talk about work. Relationships you build away from the office help to get work done more efficiently; the relationships we make help to build trust.”

    Sergeants from French Base 188 travel to Camp Lemonnier several nights a week to attend the training sessions. French army Sgt. Bertrand Schmitt, rescue diver, has taken advantage of the opportunity to learn the sport during his tour here.

    “Jiu-jitsu is less developed in France and there are not many black belts there,” said Schmitt. “Training here in Djibouti has given me a chance to evolve in the sport and I am thankful for [Easter].”

    Schmitt hopes to continue to evolve in the sport and compete in upcoming competitions. He said jiu-jitsu makes him a better person.

    When Easter is at his home station in Las Vegas, he always trains service members for free. His post-retirement plans include opening a gym and continuing to teach jiu-jitsu and martial arts students.

    For some of the service members Easter instructs, jiu-jitsu isn’t just a deployed-evening hobby. U.S. Navy Petty Officer 3rd Class Derek Smith, master at arms dog handler and jiu-jitsu blue belt, said training isn’t just something to help time go by faster. He is training for upcoming competitions and has taken advantage of being coached by a black belt for free.

    “Back home training under a black belt is really expensive and sometimes rare to be able to do,” Smith said. “To have the opportunity to train under [Easter] has improved my skill set a lot. He also lets me help instruct and teach people to develop their skills; that has helped me develop mine also.”

    Jiu-jitsu is a sport that teaches self-defense techniques service members might find themselves needing at some point during their careers, while instilling discipline and a strong work ethic.

    “We can’t thank [Easter] enough for helping us out,” Smith said. “It doesn’t matter who walks in the room, he is willing to give them everything he has and puts all his effort into them even though he knows they might not come back or they might not like it. He still tries to give them the best opportunities he can.”

    Easter’s passion for competing and mentorship of his students is what keeps him going back to the mat each day.

    “I like to give these guys something different to do; it is all about bettering ourselves when we go somewhere,” said Easter. “I just want to provide service members with another avenue to relieve stress and build team camaraderie.”

    As the camera stops flashing, the sweat continues pouring and advanced moves continue to be learned, service members at Camp Lemonnier continue to slap, bump and roll as they carry on with another session.



    Date Taken: 10.16.2014
    Date Posted: 10.16.2014 07:45
    Story ID: 145177
    Location: CAMP LEMONNIER, DJ 

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