PORT ELIZABETH, SOUTH AFRICA
PORT ELIZABETH, South Africa - There’s the English spoken in South Africa, and then there’s the English spoken in Southern California.
When Lance Cpl. Kyle W. Smith moved from Johannesburg to Orange County following his step-father’s job transfer in 2004, he learned first-hand what that meant.
“When we would talk, people would look at us with that deer in the headlights look,” the Reserve administration clerk said. “We’d repeat everything three, four times.”
After finishing high school and enrolling in American Intercontinental University’s campus near Los Angeles, Smith, now speaking with a significantly reduced accent, enlisted in the Marines. He reported to Headquarters and Service Company, 4th Light Armored Reconnaissance Battalion, based out of Camp Pendleton, Calif., in October of last year. An American high school friend had joined the Marines right after graduation and often shared his experiences with Smith, peaking his curiosity.
“The more he talked about it, the more I wanted to know,” explained Smith.
One of the first things he found out about his unit was that its slated annual training was supposed to take place in South Africa as part of Exercise Shared Accord 2011. SA is a bi-lateral military training exercise and humanitarian mission held annually throughout Africa. This year, the exercise brings together about 700 U.S. service members, most from the Marine Corps Reserve, and double that number in South African National Defence Force troops.
A senior enlisted Marine at his unit found out about Smith’s background and pushed hard for him to get a spot with the task force. His service had spared him the usual legal and processing fees associated with obtaining U.S. citizenship and allowed him to apply a year early. As a result, Smith became an American just days before he arrived back in South Africa as part of the task force’s advanced party, July 12.
In a complete reversal, Californian English was met with South African English when the Marines arrived in Port Elizabeth.
The advanced party was charged with getting the bullets, beans, bandages and everything in between ready for when the hundreds of main body U.S. forces arrived a little over a week later. Smith had arrived as a clerk, but his knowledge of the lay of the land added job titles closer to navigator.
“The SA knew I was South African so they would come to me for everything,” said Smith. “I was kind of the bridge between the two [forces] initially.”
Smith also became the “permanent driver,” he said, because he knew his way around and his fellow Marines had a natural inclination to drive on the right side - known in South Africa as the wrong side - of the road.
Sgt. Scott Johnson flew over with Smith and was responsible for helping set up communications between the Marine units in Port Elizabeth and those in Grahamstown an hour and a half away. Before he and the rest of H&S Company had left the U.S., Smith gave them a brief on the local customs as well as practical advice such as where and how to exchange currency and what shops and areas to try out.
“He basically gave us a general sense of what was going on in the nation,” said Johnson. “He was with us every step of the way.”
As luck would have it, his unit ended up with a day-long layover in Smith’s native Jo’Burg where his family even drove some Marines back to the airport after a dinner out in town.
Coming back hasn’t exactly been a vacation, though, as the task force has kept Smith busy working on the South African base from which U.S. and South African leadership have been coordinating the exercise.
“It’s like you’re so close yet so far away,” Smith admitted, explaining relatives had flown down to Port Elizabeth and were staying at a hotel a short drive away. “I’m back in South Africa, but I’m here working.”
Still, Smith says it feels good just seeing the Nando’s fast food eateries and “crunchy bars” of the youth he spent a hemisphere removed from his adopted home.
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This work, Jo’burg born Marine returns to South Africa for exercise, by Cpl Jad Sleiman, identified by DVIDS, is free of known copyright restrictions under U.S. copyright law.