Within hours of one of the largest human disasters of the 21st Century, America’s military had begun work to bring aid and assistance to the people of Haiti. Coast Guard cutters in the Caribbean immediately started steaming at flank speed toward Port-au-Prince. Within 24 hours, an Air Force Special Operations team from the 23rd Special Tactics Squadron landed at the airport and the United States Navy’s nuclear-powered aircraft carrier, USS Carl Vinson CVN-70, was steaming toward Haiti.
The Air Force team landed with radios on their back, ready to communicate with commercial aircraft overhead. They immediately assumed responsibility for air traffic control at the Port au Prince airport, under the direction of the Haitian authorities. Behind the scenes, the team set up emergency landing lights, deployed security teams to protect the airport and sent out other teams to assess the extent of damage to the airport. Other airmen started setting up operations to run the airport and several search and rescue teams headed into the city to start rescues. By noon Thursday, January 14th, they had conducted seven rescues.
As the global response force, the 2nd Brigade Combat Team of the 82nd Airborne Division is on 24/7 standby, ready to deploy anywhere in the world within 18 hours. A lead element from Bravo Company, 1st Battalion, 73rd Infantry, left Fort Bragg on Thursday, and the entire battalion, along with a command and control element from the division’s 2nd Brigade Combat Team, will join them on Friday, January 15th. The lead element of the “Ready-Brigade” arrived Thursday night and by this morning soldiers were preparing to start their support operations.
Meanwhile, the Carl Vinson’s helicopters lifted off as soon as the ship was in range of the Port au Prince airport. Her gray helicopters were on the ground by sunrise Friday morning.
Back in the United States, three ships were steaming from Norfolk to Moorhead City, NC to pick up the 22nd Marine Expeditionary Unit, commanded by Colonel Gareth Brandl. Marines from the 22nd MEU had just returned from a deployment in the Indian Ocean before the holidays. They have all been recalled and are quickly loading up their ships, USS Bataan LHD-5, USS Carter Hall LSD-3 and USS Fort McHenry LSD-43, and will be under way tomorrow morning.
As American military forces converge on the disaster area, hundreds of servicemen and women are working behind the scenes. The Air Force diverted a Global Hawk UAV from its journey to Afghanistan to the Haitian skies. It has been operating over Port au Prince since yesterday, capturing valuable photographic intelligence and providing that data to the world. Logistics experts are working tirelessly to plan the relief effort. They are identifying critical needs, prioritizing flights, assessing the capabilities at the airport and identifying what can be done to improve the flow of air traffic.
The Carl Vinson will relieve some of the stress on the airport. Supplies can now be helicoptered in from the sea and casualties can be treated aboard ship. All day today, the Marines are loading the equipment and supplies they will need to help the people of Haiti. The Marines should arrive, on-scene, by Monday. They have the capability to conduct an amphibious landing. They will probably set up a beachhead to provide another way to get much-needed supplies to the people of Haiti.
The Marines are bringing more heavy-lift helicopters, water purification systems that can produce 60,000 gallons of potable water per day, much needed medical supplies, and a thousand Marines from Battalion Landing Team 3/2, commanded by LtCol Robert Fulford. The USS Bataan has medical facilities only exceeded on the Hospital Ship USNS Comfort, which will also be arriving later next week.
With every hour, the relief effort will improve. Help is on the way.
NOTE: Colonel Gareth Brandl commanded 1st Battalion, 8th Marines during Operation Phantom Fury. Read his story and those of his Marines in the fight to free Fallujah in New Dawn, in bookstores on May 14th.
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