GRAND BARA DESERT, Djibouti – The sonic boom of a pair of French Mirage fighter jets signified the start of the 36th annual Grand Bara Run, where nearly 200 members of Combined Joint Task Force – Horn of Africa ran alongside 2,500 Djiboutian, Chinese and coalition service members and civilians during the 15k (9.3 mile) race across a stretch of Djibouti’s Grand Bara Desert, Dec. 13.
Master at Arms 2nd Class Sarah Brandt, a military police officer in the Navy Reserve from California, said she was motivated by a runner from the Japanese base as they kept pace throughout the race.
“Running is kind of a common language,” said Brandt, who came in second overall with a time of 63 minutes and 9 seconds. “No matter where you’re from or what language you speak, you get to know a person in a different way during a race. We all share the same type of struggles and challenges through a run. You create a special type of bond through the shared pain.”
While the vast barren landscape of the Grand Bara desert reminded Brandt of the planet Tatooine from the American epic space saga Star Wars, Marine Maj. Hyun Chang Choi, the Republic of Korea Liaison Officer for CJTF-HOA, simply said it was very different from his native South Korea.
“It was one of the best runs" said Choi, who finished just after Brandt in 63 minutes and 22 seconds. "I was really impressed with how strong the Djiboutian Armed Forces were. This is exactly what a coalition alliance is about. I felt that as we ran, we became one team.”
U.S. Air Force Capt. Sherrie Qureshi, a human resource officer with CJTF-HOA, said the race gave her a new appreciation of our partners.
“I learned, despite our cultural differences, that we, Americans, have the same appreciation for challenges and physical triumph as our coalition allies,” Qureshi said.
U.S. Army Maj. Michele O’Neil, with the 403rd Civil Affairs Battalion, agreed the run helped solidify already-strong partnerships between the different U.S. military branches and their local and international partners.
“When we are running, it doesn’t matter what rank, nationality or service you are,” said O’Neil, a U.S. Army Reserve officer who immigrated to the U.S. from France in 2001. “The run is a great way to strengthen partnerships and friendships through participation in a sports event.”
Hosted by the French Armed Forces 5th Combined Overseas Marine Battalion, the race honors the long history of the French relationship with Djibouti. Participants in the race follow a 15-kilometer line of rocks in the Grand Bara desert, which historically was part of how the Foreign Legion would punish its Soldiers, said O’Neil.
“The French Foreign Legion was stationed here for many years," said O'Neil. "The Soldier would have to paint the rocks as part of their punishment, eventually the race evolved as a way to honor that history. It’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. If you come to Djibouti, you have to do it.”