Monthly Challenge for July

Theme: QA the Blueprint.   

Focus: Layout your work.   

This month, I have a great challenge that I will take the lead on. Whatever the endeavor, lay out your work to assess where you are and the quality of your efforts as you advance towards your goal. I have been working on a writing project that I now layout for an audience to assess, present questions on, and offer insight.

This book project, Hands of Engagement: Famine, Civil War, and Resiliency, is written by me and my co-author and friend, Bashir Gure. We have worked on this for over a year and we have much more work to do as we work to make it educational, meaningful, and inspiring for a variety of audiences.  

Make it Personal:

“My worst of times were some of my greatest of times. The operational conditions were horrible but the men alongside me were the best of the best because of our training, devotion to service, and loyalty to each other. We went on missions together, being exposed to various risks, while knowing all we had was what we had. Twenty-five years later, I reflect with clarity. Dreams of my comrades as well as places and events are still real. Sometimes in those dreams, we are young and at other times we are older. The same men, doing the same thing – getting it done like we always have. These men, I hold nothing but reverence and indebtedness.” ~ Joe Shakeenab

Create a Win:

I found this lies within the purpose of my joint undertaking with Bashir. We have defined three major reasons to this joint project.

1. To share my experiences of Somalia and the transitional experience of a Somali youth. Differing perspectives, at the similar times and places, and how those experiences affected us.

2. To communicate our individual growth and occasional trials as a result of personal experiences with the hope that others can learn and grow from the materials herein.

3. To educate and inspire others, particularly in similar humanitarian intervention and global crisis management environments, as they prepare for and engage in such missions.

“Outwardly, I smiled, inwardly, sadness grew, and at times, I was lost.” ~ Joe Shakeenab

The Benefits:

To build upon a noble purpose, I have dedicated this book to the youth throughout the world – as many of them prepare to travel an inspirational journey and make significant contributions to humanity along the way. Travel light, with an open mind, and document the beauty of every phase.

Furthermore, this work is dedicated to the individuals and organizations that work in support of offset calamities throughout the world. Continue to contribute, educate, render guidance, bring relief, and set the tone to facilitate stability and progress. 

Below is an excerpt of the Setting: 

I deployed to Somalia in support of Operation Restore Hope from March through May 1993 and then Operation Continue Hope from May through September 1993. There, I was with one of two U.S. Special Forces Operational Detachment Alpha’s (ODA’s) from Bravo Company, 5th Special Forces Group. Our initial mission was to operate throughout the country to provide area assessments and intelligence of displaced personnel and situation reports, especially regarding humanitarian aid needs, area security, and threats.

Operational Detachment Bravo 580, commonly referred to as the “B” team as our headquarters. For this mission, additional military intelligence analysts were assigned to assist the deployed elements with collecting information as well as assessing and reporting the ground truth. The “B” team was commanded by Major Jesmer and Sergeant Major Ballog, both of whom were well-respected and experienced operational leaders. Sergeant Major Ballog would go on to earn his purple heart while on ambushed with my “A” team, in Mogadishu.

Early on in the deployment, Major Jesmer spoke with me about possibly being tasked to work with the Department of State. Once the administrative and logistical details were finalized, I was tasked to provide communication for the U.S. Ambassador team out of Djibouti, who would operate in the northern region of Somalia. It was during this opportunity where I interacted with personalities in the northern region often referred to as Somaliland.

On this theatrical tour of duty, I reflected on an early visit in August 1985 to a then government-controlled environment. But in 1993, it was a country with no central government and Somalia was quickly spiraling downward in turmoil, due to the agendas of divisive actors. I witnessed much from the many lessons presented by extreme famine, civil war, discord, and gaps of intervention by the international community. My observations of, participation in, and continuous research, set the stage for this book.

During my twenty-eight years of military service, Operation Restore Hope was the most impactful tour. In Somalia, I found myself in a forever-changing environment. Daily intelligence or the lack thereof altered our operational plans, generated new missions, and honed our skills as unconventional warriors. It was definitely a place that brought psychological challenges and maturity.

Somalia reinforced the value of integrated training, thus, ensuring leaders at the lowest levels could make decisions in support of strategic objectives and tactical operations, be they humanitarian, advisory, combat, or a combination thereof.

In Somalia, I witnessed people struggling for survival, and equally, some not actively participating in their own liberation, but passively awaiting deliverance. There were individuals with hands reaching outward, while others with hands concealed. It was a place where people were suspicious of neighbors, transients, and foreigners alike. My dairy and letters then, and my writings now, illustrate that Somalia in general and Mogadishu in particular, was sometimes a place of predictability, yet uncertainty.

All in all, in Somalia, I grew!


Again, I’m honored to have a gift of the pen, discipline to embrace the challenge of creative writing, and the desire to hone my skills in support of my gift. I continue to push myself and I pray that you will do the same. Achievement comes through continuous improvements and I’m open to sharing parts of this work to anyone who desires to connect with my journey.


“Distant thunder and occasional rains bring a calming presence to my spirit and soothing beats to my soul. This induces moral quietness, thus, making me whole, as I travel on.”  ~ Joe Shakeenab