January 26, 2015

Operation Unified Response Part 2

Effected area from 2010 Earthquake


After 4 long days and nights my turn had finally come and I was directed to back my up-armored humvee onto the hold of a C-17 with a troop transport truck. The flight crew was from the Kansas Air National Guard who had been activated full time for Iraq and Afghanistan supply runs but were diverted to Pope AFB for a few Haiti missions.

I asked the flight crew if they had heard any guidance regarding our mission and they were as astonished as I was at how little information we had all received. After 4 days of waiting on the tarmac, we didn't get any updates, briefs, or anything in the way of information on what to expect in Haiti. I was assuming this was mostly a humanitarian effort with an armed presence deterring bad actors from misbehaving. I assumed if there were actual bullets flying, I would have heard something but couldn't be certain. We were wearing body armor and had a full combat load of ammo (210 rounds with 7 magazines at 30per) for our M-4. The 19yo female soldier with me who had never deployed was understandably nervous as nobody had told us a thing about our mission which is against everything we've ever faced in an Army that loves nothing more than to give briefs and where the term: "Death by Powerpoint"has its origins. After a smooth landing and as the flight crew unchained our vehicles, I told Private Female we were going "Amber Status" with our weapons which means fully loaded magazine in rifle but no round in chamber and weapon on 'safe'.  This didn't exactly sooth her nerves so I starting busting on our new Platoon Leader, a Lieutenant who had to be the biggest joke in the Army. He wasn't evil but a tone deaf Star Wars nerd who not only was thoroughly incompetent but strutted around with an air of naive pomposity that would make Barney Fife look like James Bond. During the previous 4 days of waiting on the tarmac, I told everyone there was no way in hell this Lieutenant would last a month before getting fired.

He was relieved of his command in less than a week.

Everywhere in Port au Prince looked like this

We drove off the back of the C-17 into complete darkness about 3am having no idea what the situations was, where to go, and if we'd be able to link up with my unit or where they were. Some guy ground-guiding me with glowsticks told me my unit was bedding down next to the runway so they were easy to find. Since tents had yet to arrive everyone was in sleeping bags out in the open with a few guards posted at the perimeter.

Every building in Haiti looked like this except...

The following day we found out that the threat level was quite low and our mission was primarily humanitarian relief by helping to distribute food, water, help remove debris, and our medics were tasked with helping tend to the hundreds of thousands of sick and injured.


...the American Embassy which didn't have a scratch....

As the new day dawned, I made the unpleasant discovery that the most coveted delicacy of the Haitian mosquito is a 45yo paratrooper of Scots-Irish descent and word soon spread there was a fresh one braising on a bed of lettuce in sticky 95 degree heat and soon every mosquito in the Caribbean was falling on me like a lion at a kill....I had welps on top of welps and a body acclimatized to sub-freezing temps was now beet red and blistering in stifling heat with absolutely nothing to provide shade since we were next to a runway.

...nor did the Canadian Embassy as both were built to withstand the big earthquake everybody knew was coming or
what I like to refer to as a 1st World Solution to an expected problem. Blame the corrupt Haitian government for
not performing proper inspections and allowing shoddy construction practices.


Also adding to our discomfort were those charming Navy helicopter pilots (living in luxury aboard ship) flying about 30 feet directly over us every 5 or 10 minites off-loading cargo nets full of supplies from the port to a staging area nearby. This sudden blast of sand and other debris disrupted The Feast of the Mosquitoes only momentarily .  Since our Lieutenant wouldn't know how to handle it, we went to our company commander and told him the next helicopter that buzzed us was going to be shot down.
The helicopters thereafter came in much higher and not directly over us.

The first few days were spent getting a staging area organized for all the supplies arriving and taking convoys of our troop carrier trucks down to the port to help offload the navy ships. We were astonished at the degree of devastation the 7.0 earthquake had wrought turning nearly every building to rubble with now hundreds of thousands of survivors without shelter and food and clean water supplies also greatly diminished.

Our equipment was slow in arriving as we didn't receive our tents and cots until about Day 14 and the happiest day of my life was Day 17 when I was issued a mosquito net. About Day 25 our Field Kitchen and showers arrived allowing us hot food and not having to rely on baby wipes for personal hygiene.

I spent several weeks over at Petionville Country Club which was converted into a medical clnic with huge tent villages set up on the fairways of Haiti's only golf course. We put our tents up on the tennis courts. Hollywood actor Sean Penn was there and spent months in Haiti on his own dime working tirelessly on behalf of people in great distress. I didn't much like Sean Penn but now hold him in the highest respect. He was there long after the media left and many NGO big shots departed after getting their photo op and knoshing on gourmet food and chardonnay at the Embassy parties.

I worked alongside several genuinely committed NGO workers who had little good to say about most other NGOs who are all about the fancy website peopled with Ivy League or Oxbridge former campus radicals who are also genuine but never care much about the follow through and determining whether they are actually helping. After about Day 6 there wasn't a water issue at all but one Minneapolis based NGO guy told me CNN was falsely reporting that Haiti was desperately in need of drinking water and the NGOs just sent ship after ship of water with no place to put it. Rather than face the prospect of criticism over having their funds spent on unneeded supplies, they pulled strings to get those ships offloaded (by us) and there was no place to put all that unneeded water. Furthermore, bottled water is palletized for transport in trucks or ships and offloaded and stored in modern well designed warehouses. When moved overground in rough and bumpy disaster areas, those pallets start becoming unstable after being jostled around as shrink wrapping can only do so much. We spent so much of our time moving water nobody needed around 6 or 8 times and then having to repack by hand which was very labor intensive and time consuming. The water nobody needed continued to arrive via those earnest well intentioned NGOs that mustn't have their self-congratulatory updates and fundraising efforts exposed as being wasteful, mismanaged, and actually causing major problems for the relief effort.  After hearing from that NGO guy and seeing it firsthand, I'm always skeptical of those cause du jour philanthropys with Radical Chic hipsters on the websites.


Hollywood actor Sean Penn (at the Petionville Club where I also was) who actually did make a huge difference in helping the people of Haiti. He was down there for months on his own dime,, contributed and helped raise lots of money, and continues to do so. I now have the highest respect for him.
The biggest surprise was learning how hated the United Nations is by the typical Haitian. These wouldn't be the Haitians rubbing elbows with the NGO swells at Embassy parties over wine and brie but the Haitians who are dirt poor and had to come stand in line for hours to wait for a sack of rice that Sean Penn and I among many others helped distribute.  What the locals were telling me was that the 5,000 UN troops in Haiti prior to the earthquake did nothing more than empower local thugs who fattened themselves up off of UN, USA, NGO  largesse while only distributing food and aid to political allies and depriving rivals of food or aid. I was just as surprised at our reception as American soldiers were treated like rock stars by the dispossessed Haitians as apparently the UN troops had to behave themselves when we were around. Again, I suspect that many of the UN administrative staff are genuine well-intentioned types who just are clueless and easily manipulated by the local thug powerbrokers.

UN soldier from Nepal. As this pic demonstrates, their aggressive posture and behavior was all wrong as holding a weapon at the 'high ready' is provocative rather than the much safer and less threatening 'low ready' with rifle muzzle pointed downward. When dealing with crowds they were bullies and treated people waiting in line for food like animals by pushing even women and children with riot gear shields which my fellow soldiers and I did with polite and respectful hand gestures without the slightest problem.


Most of the UN soldiers I encountered were from Nepal who were a little in awe of 82nd Airborne paratroopers. I hated to see how they handled crowd control at food distribution sites as they treated the locals like common criminals. I could easily imagine a local thug powerbroker using these soldiers to intimidate and reinforce his own power.  One day one of these local thug politicians tried to prevent us from setting up a food distribution site in a rival's neighborhood and put the word out to the locals there would be reprisals if they showed up. I'm not sure how and who handled it but we managed to get the thug to stand down and distributed food at that location the following day. Our role was just to be a presence behind the Nepalese UN troops with about 4-6 US paratroopers behind the 30-40 UN troops who were up front right against the crowds. I didn't like just standing around and saw the many frail elderly women there to get rice couldn't possibly lift the 50lb sacks (such as what Sean Penn is carrying above) so we organized groups to assist and instructed elderly women or young girls to bring baskets or buckets to carry what they could that we poured from those 50lb sacks.

I was a great favorite with the Nepalese soldiers for reasons I can only speculate at but they all knew me calling out my name when they arrived via bus at distribution sites and they all wanted a picture with me and I must have been asked to pose with over 100 different Nepalese soldiers. I'm almost sure this was because I'm only 5 foot 6 inches in height which is above-average for a Nepalese male and the other paratroopers with me looked like outside linebackers. I loved telling all the guys that Pappy's mug is going to be on every refrigerator in Nepal.

We were in Haiti for 2 months and made a terrible situation much better. The Haitian people are kind, warm, and endure severe hardship with an inspiring spirit and expressed nothing but gratitude towards American soldiers. They deserve a far better future than their leaders will provide.

Colonel Chris Gibson was my Brigade Commander in Haiti. He is now better known
as Congressman Chris Gibson of New York's 19th District


The newest member of the Den's Rapid Response Team who may soon be parachuting into Woodcock Pocket
to aid our co-conspirator, Bebe, from American Alconleigh as what may be 3 feet of snow has begun to fall.




31 comments:

  1. This time I DEFINITELY have no words. Absolutely riveting and eye-opening. If you're not too bound up in your Den Duties, there are MANY other spots and circumstances which could use such a keen eye and unvarnished voice.

    I could see a Pulitzer in your future, Kiddo.

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  2. Unfortunately five years later it's not much better for the Haitians. They are still living in terrible conditions, and there houses have not been rebuilt.

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    1. Donna, Haiti even wound up suing the UN because those UN soldiers from Nepal apparently caused a cholera outbreak that killed over 8,000 and severely sickened hundreds of thousands.Graft and corruption are synonymous with the 3rd World which the UN to a large degree unintentionally aids and abets.

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  3. My dear GSL-what a great read! How interesting to hear about what goes on behind the scenes in these situations. Im always a fan of the story behind the story,it's always more interesting than what we are given by the usual outlets and your adventure is captivating. What a hardship they made it for you at the beginning. And what a relief you all must have been to the Haitians after the UN soldiers. How did your ingenue fare?
    It's nice to hear that Sean Penn is as good as his word-good for him.

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    1. I don't even remember seeing the ingenue after we arrived as the taskings we were put on were quite physically arduous such as moving rubble, throwing 50lb sacks of rice onto trucks, etc. so the females were likely supporting the medics treating the many thousands of sick and injured and with the many base camp duties.

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  4. I've heard the story but never from this perspective. Very eye opening indeed!

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    1. Thanks Jen,
      My 4 1/2 years of active duty military service were quite eye opening in ways large and small, good and bad. Glad I did it and glad it's over.

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  5. Wow, this is fascinating, you have lived such a different life.

    "I asked the flight crew if they had heard any guidance regarding our mission and they were as astonished as I was at how little information we had all received. After 4 days of waiting on the tarmac, we didn't get any updates, briefs, or anything in the way of information on what to expect in Haiti."

    That seems amazing! Do you think they didn't know what they were doing? An incredible combo of waiting, hard work, sadness and terrifying stuff.
    What do you do for four days? Play cars, eat? read? I would be no good as I don't like cards.
    Yes great to hear about Sean Penn, did you meet him? he seems so talented and intense.

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    1. Jody, those 4 days on the tarmac were mostly tedious and unfortunately I didn't have anything to read after the first few hours. My whole stateside active duty service, I always kept NYT, Atlantic, New Yorker, etc. articles printed out and in my cargo pockets to fill the endless voids of Army life while in garrison. It was also useful to keep the many fine young soldiers at bay who were always eager to chat up 'Pappy' and I needed downtime from these people who while mostly of fine character were from a different planet in many ways. By 2010, I was in the gun lap of my service and was quite well known due to the novelty of being the oldest ever paratrooper who also ran the 2 mile in 12 minutes and with every other unit from my 2nd Brigade also out on the tarmac, I received many visitors being quite the curiosity.
      The Army like any bureaucracy has many blind spots and with the Army's rigid hierarchy, the intertia is calcified. During bootcamp, we spent 2 days on bayonet training and got a 15 minute brief on Iraq and they told us 70% of us would be there within a year. All you really need to know is the Army grades its own work which is the telltale sign that an organization is deeply flawed.

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  6. Bravo GSL! I'm so happy you wrote this story as we, the outsiders, only ever see/hear what the news media film or write about. Your perspective, as the man on the ground, was riveting and I felt like a fly on the wall just reading your post this evening. I cannot even imagine the difficulties you personally endured in order to bring much needed help to the Haitians. My husband's favorite saying is "disturb your comfort so that you may comfort the disturbed", which is precisely what you did for these poor souls in the two months you were there.

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    1. Thank you CD; I know I'd like your husband (as I already do your father) while also considering him quite lucky.

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  7. Darling G,

    What a riveting read this post has been.

    When one has to rely on the international media for information, it inevitably is sadly lacking in true reporting. And so, this account has opened our eyes to this humanitarian crisis and the way in which it was handled by various agencies. So much money, so many good intentions but they are nothing without an overall strategy which focuses resources at the points of greatest need and benefit. And, how this unfortunate state of affairs is repeated time and time again.

    But you, darling G, now have such amazing experiences to reflect upon and to inform others. These are life changing events and you have played a part in relieving the suffering of people in their darkest hours. For that, we are sure, you can feel proud and they can feel grateful.

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    1. Darlings J & L,
      The majority of international news coverage is a manifestation of the media-academic complex that largely speaks with 1 voice and coverage is presented as objective while in fact being agenda driven. I did a quick dip back into academia in 2011 and was astonished at what political indoctrination camps college campuses had become and this at a time when the Occupy Wall Street protest tourism was so in vogue and the wet dream of every faculty lounge habitue. Almost every lecture no matter how far removed from current events was concluded with some ridiculous vignette to drive home the point that the Obama Administration was for all that was good in the world and those disagreeing were stupid, racist, or worse. One notable exception was a very fine visiting professor who was retired Professor Emeritus at his previous instituion who is a highly regarded Shakespeare scholar very much from the Old School who would never dare inject contemporary political advocacy into Shakespearean plots which the younger generations can't resist. Our politics were quite different but we became good friends and I cheered and congratulated him (while viewing it on C-SPAN) when his son was named America's Ambassador to Israel, a very sensitive post whose issues we had discussed thoughtfully and civilly often after class over coffee and with his brilliant professor/novelist wife.

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  8. Fascinating stuff! You unsung heroes are the best! I'm glad that little teenage girl had Pappy to comfort and guide her. I'd love to hear about your active duty in war zones. I see a book in the making. Two miles in 12 minutes is impressive - but I bet I could make you run faster! Claire

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    1. Darling Claire,
      A book of my military service would indeed be quite a good read and it was strongly encouraged by several who read my real time dispatches from Iraq that greatly anticipated the favorable events of 2007 that were not reported by the hacks at the NYT, Reuters, and the Associated Press until much later and then only reluctantly. You see my dear Claire, Pappy is far more than comforting, and oh yes he is that, he is quite clever and knew full well those slapdash emails inboxed at the corner of Power & Influence had all the elements you've come to expect from your matinee idol: the keen insight, rapier wit, all served up with a sense of dash and intrigue. Now can you imagine my utter shock, SHOCK, I tell you, when those very same dispatches ricocheted into the highest echelons of power and then confirmation reached me sometimes even a full day ahead of the time I anticiapated in the form of a certain Commanding General's daughter's (who like you may have had the same schoolgirl crush that was much speculated about...) breathless inquiries into solving the riddle wrapped in the enigmatic man everyone so wanted to know more about...?
      While that book would have then caused quite a stir, I knew it wouldn't serve the masterplan well at that time.
      Now Claire, I am quite taken with the beguiling aplomb that you possess the feminine wiles to make your dreamboat quicken his pace...as I'm sure most close acquaintances think the last thing GSL would ever desire would come from the Jersey Shore...

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    2. Dreamboat or shipwreck? I simply cannot believe that a man of your beguiling talents hasn't been snapped up and house trained by some delightful dame, already! I'm thinking about topping up my tan and having GSL tattooed across my....well, I'll let you decide! I do enjoy teasing you. Claire

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    3. Darling Delightful Claire,
      Michelangelo and Raphael couldn't tramp-stamp your lush contours better than GSL's cupped hand delivering a love tap so exquisite, you'd be throwing rocks at every other man you've ever known, heard of, or read about...

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    4. i'd be throwing something - probably a spiky heel at your head! But yes, my contours are indeed lush. I'm just not sure that blue eyed blondes are your 'thing'?

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    5. I do lots of things and B.E.Gs just so happen to be a specialty of the house.

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    6. Time you tell Claire that Estella has long since been your number one. That said, if i had a dollar for every time i heard GSL say "petite blonde" and "wheelhouse" in the same breath i'd be celebrating today.

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  9. Wow! Well done you! I had to go back and read part 1 - I've been a bit absent of late.
    Such a wonderful difference you made, and such an amazing read!

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    1. Thank you my dear Ruth; you have been missed and I think you owe us a couple of updo selfies with at least one in that smoking hot HL frock...

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  10. Your deployment and efforts in Haiti will never be forgotten by those in need! A job well done G! You make a wonderful correspondent of your military days! Yes, I too, can see a novel in the making!
    Thank you for this vivid reenactment!

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  11. Love the tale. I also agree charities are well intentioned but egos are everywhere and there's this odd corruption thing. Quite upsetting really. I have actually pulled back from donating to certain charities now bc of it. Haiti could be such a great country and shows government does have a lot of power. Chicago must seem a bit dull after all that action

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    1. Naomi,
      So many of those charities are about the website, gala, cutting a check, and just saying they donated X amount to such and such and that's the end of it and that model often underwrites a bad crowd for the locals and worsens a bad situation while allowing the 'benefactors' a preening reference to alway make regarding how much they are trying to help.

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