|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.
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.
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.