Just before 5 p.m. Jan. 12 a magnitude 7.0 earthquake devastated the Caribbean nation of Haiti. The quake’s epicenter hit 10 miles west of the nation’s capital, leaving an estimated three million people in need of emergency assistance.
On Jan. 16 the 22nd Marine Expeditionary Unit embarked on the ships of the Bataan Amphibious Ready Group and set sail for Haiti in support of Operation Unified Response, the U.S. military’s response to the earthquake. After three days at sea, the first wave of Marines landed on the island to begin humanitarian assistance operations in Leogane, Haiti.
With disaster relief efforts in effect, helicopters soared through Haitian skies bringing food and water ashore. Marines distributed the supplies and assisted locals to clean up the destruction. Navy corpsmen rendered aid to those in need of medical assistance, even taking patients back to Navy ships for further treatment.
By Jan. 21, with 11,000 United Nations and U.S. troops in Haiti, efforts to stabilize the distressed nation were well underway.
“This is truly a joint effort. We’ve got the Navy medical staff caring for the patients, Army convoys bringing in supplies and Marines providing logistical support as well as security,” said Maj. Keith E. Owens, executive officer, Combat Logistics Battalion 24, 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit.
Owens and the Marines and sailors of the 24th MEU and the Nassau Amphibious Ready Group were originally scheduled to sail across the Atlantic on a regular seven-month deployment to the European and Central Command theaters of operation. However, on Jan. 19, they were ordered to join their counterparts in Haiti.
Small teams with the 24th MEU landed in the northern part of the island Jan. 24 to assess the situation in areas that had not been evaluated for damage since relief efforts began.
The teams flew into Haiti from the USS Nassau using MV-22 Osprey tilt-rotor aircraft, marking the first time an Osprey participated in a humanitarian relief operation.
Marines and sailors from the 24th MEU and Nassau ARG delivered and distributed 57,368 meals, 1,365,617 pounds of rice, 30,776 bottles of water, 3,260 pounds of medical supplies, 2,781 hand-crank radios and 79,656 jars of baby food before continuing on with their scheduled deployment to the Central Command area of operations Feb. 8.
Africa Partnership Station 10 Security Cooperation Marine Air Ground Task Force originally scheduled to deploy to the coasts of West Africa, was also diverted to Haiti to assist the 22nd MEU in disaster relief efforts. The Marines spent two weeks in Haiti delivering 181,090 individual Meals, Read-to-Eat, 14,721 bottles of water and countless hours of medical assistance and disaster cleanup before continuing on with their original mission.
As service members spread out through the country, local leadership recognized that without assistance they wouldn’t be able to get a grip on the destruction caused by the tremor.
“After the earthquake we had a lot of problems because we can’t save people, we can’t help them,” said Dahame Laguerre, mayor of Anse-A-Galets, Haiti. “Right after the earthquake we said, ‘after God we will wait for the [Americans] to help us.’”
Among the Marines were several French-Creole speaking natives of Haiti that were deployed to patch the language barrier between the Marines and the population they went to aid.
For one Marine born in Port-de-Paix, Haiti, the idea of serving the Corps and his native home never crossed his mind. “I had no idea I would ever be doing anything like this in the Marine Corps,” said Lance Cpl. Drivenel Alfred, in a Jan. 27 news article written by Gunnery Sgt. Robert Piper. “It makes me feel great to have this opportunity to help both the Marine Corps and my people.”
The ability to assist people in need transcended cultural differences between Marines.
“It’s tragic what happened to this country,” said Lance Cpl. Zhidong Mao, Battalion Landing Team 3rd Battalion, 2nd Marine Regiment, 22nd MEU. “I’m glad to be here. I’ve never done anything like this before.”
As of Feb. 24, the 22nd MEU has distributed 558,988 bottles of water, 18,804 pounds of medical supplies, 15,207 pounds of miscellaneous supplies and more than one million humanitarian aid disaster relief rations.
“We’re here to bridge the gap in services that the local civic leadership was unable to facilitate given the amount of destruction and damage to their infrastructure and supply chains,” said 1st Lt. Jeff Cummings, BLT 3/2, 22nd MEU.
U.S. service members in Haiti worked around the clock to assist the Haitian people in the aftermath of the violent quake.
“The Marines and sailors were magnificent in their role as facilitators in a much larger relief effort that brought together many nations and organizations in one common cause, helping the people of Haiti. It is hard to capture in words the incredible work they have done and the lives they have saved,” said Col. Pete Petronzio, commanding officer, 24th MEU, in a Feb. 9 press release.
Marines and sailors of the 22nd MEU remain in Haiti to continue their relief efforts in the region, working tirelessly alongside soldiers, airmen and U.N. workers to restore hope for the devastated nation.
“I am extremely proud of the dedication and sacrifice the Marines and sailors have endured to answer the call to assist in the relief efforts in Haiti,” said Col. Gareth F. Brandl, 22nd MEU commanding officer. “They are true professional ambassadors of our great nation. We are balancing a hard-working, warrior mentality with compassion and dedication.
“Our combined efforts continue to help the Haitian people get the food, water, shelter and the medical aid they need.”
// By Marine Corps News
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