Lieutenant Commander Stempel sees a familiar night sky in Mogadishu

— Submitted photo

Lieutenant Commander Nathan D. Stempel of Berne wears his Bronze Star for Meritorious Service while displaying the certificate that came with it. On a nine-month deployment to Mogadishu, Somalia, he facilitated coordination between the United Embassy, European Union Mission to Somalia, United Nations, African Union Mission to Somalia, United Kingdom, Turkey, and federal government leaders of Somalia to bolster the Somali National Army’s ability to maintain security in the southern half of the country. “His leadership and drive led directly to the liberation of territory controlled by the al-Shabaab terrorist organization and enduring improvements to the institutional capacity of the Somali Security Forces and Somali Ministry of Defense,” according to a release from the United States Navy Reserve.

Right after the terrorists’ attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, Nathan D. Stempel, who had graduated from Berne-Knox-Westerlo in June, changed his original plans for college and joined the Navy instead.

Before his recent deployment to Africa — which led to his earning a Bronze Star for Meritorious Service — Stempel served tours on active duty aboard USS Louisville (SSN-724), a nuclear-powered submarine, and as a Naval Reserve Officers Training Corps instructor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

As a reservist, Stempel has been a part of exercises in South Korea, Virginia, and Italy, while balancing jobs as a management consultant and co-founder of a tech startup. 

He transitioned from active duty to the Naval Reserves in 2016 and was deployed away from his family, his fiancée, his friends, and the tech company he co-founded. Stempel was grateful to have internet access for the duration of his deployment and the ability to stay connected to his family, including his mother and father, lifetime East Berne residents, Brian and Kathy Stempel.

This differs from previous deployments he has conducted in nuclear-powered submarines where communication home is not feasible for weeks at a time.

Stempel likes writing about his experiences to share them back home. In 2012, he wrote The Enterprise what it was like to be a submarine sailor on the USS Louisville. Here is a description he wrote on Jan. 24 this year from Mogadishu.

North Ramp at Night 

Standing adjacent to the runway of a major airport is a rare thing. Even rarer is being there at 11 o’clock at night seeing a C-130 with no lights on roll into its parking spot 100 meters away.

The engine roars so loud that it is a peaceful experience. Such power drowns out all other sounds; you have no obligation to make small talk with the soldiers standing next to you, waiting for their parts and personnel to arrive. It’s a moment of relaxation.

One of the most iconic symbols of American power projection is a few hundred feet away but is unrecognizable; it is barely a silhouette in the darkness of the unlit runway. How we make an aircraft a third the length of a football field almost invisible will always impress me no matter how many trips to the North Ramp I take.

A glimpse of green glow catches my eyes. The night-vision goggles randomly floating in the cabin of a heavy loader is a spectral sight to see. The driver is diligently withdrawing pallets full of supplies from the belly of the great bird.

I know they cross between me and the aircraft by the muffling of the roar when the machine cuts between myself and the C-130’s great engines. Squinting, the outline of the five-ton loader appears as my eyes become a little more accustomed to the darkness.

The salty air from the Indian Ocean is blowing aggressively across the flight line. It’s a competition between mother nature and man to see who can create a stronger gust; the coastal winds versus the C-130.

Looking up to shield my eyes from flying sand, I see a clear night. The stars are shining beautifully. At two degrees North Latitude, I am barely in the Northern Hemisphere but am thankful that the sky is familiar.

Seeing Orion’s belt gives me a warm feeling and fond memories of staring upon the night sky back home. Low-lying clouds are rushing overhead, creating a unique game of peek-a-boo between me and the mighty Greek hunter.

As beautiful of a setting all this has created, I can only think about the odd juxtaposition: In a city of two million, there is no light pollution. The irony is not lost on me while taking in the beauty and unloading the United States’ commitment to restoring stability to Somalia.

Nathan D. Stempel

East Berne

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