Country club serves as forward base for Paras in Haiti
As the sun rises over the sweeping palms here, not much is certain about Army Lt. Col. Mike Fosterâ€™s day.
But one thing that is certain is that a hundred yards or so away, down a slope lined by a narrow, worn footpath, are thousands of earthquake survivors who will look to him and his troops for the basics of their survival.
Some nongovernmental estimates say about 50,000 Haitians sleep at night at the foot of this country club and golf course estate that the 82nd Airborne Divisionâ€™s 1st Squadron, 73rd Cavalry Regiment, now calls home.
The scene would be spectacular, with sweeping views of the city to the east and the coastal sea to the west, but that north are some of those hit hardest by last weekâ€™s earthquake. And many of those left homeless now are gathered at the bottom of Fosterâ€™s hill, waiting for help.
â€œI donâ€™t know how the dayâ€™s going to shape up,â€ Foster said. â€œI know that weâ€™re going to be busy. I know that weâ€™re going to work real hard, and Iâ€™m confident that at the end of the day when the sun goes down, we will have made a difference.â€
Foster and his squadron of about 300 soldiers have been on the ground less than two days and already have passed out thousands of meals and bottles of water to the Haitians. At the same time, theyâ€™re fortifying the abandoned and damaged estate into a military forward operating base.
Helicopters land constantly through the day on an open, grassy spot on the hill, dumping more troops and supplies from their bellies. Soldiers outline the perimeter. A gym becomes a sleeping area. The racquetball courts store troopsâ€™ equipment. The swimming pool is lined with rucksacks.
Yesterday, the troops made their initial aid drop. They tried at first to move into the survivor camp to deliver the food, but the handful of troops, led by Foster, quickly became engulfed in a sea of screaming survivors. At the sight of some relief, the crowd became excited, and it was clear that the food could not be passed out in the camp. The troops were forced to retreat up the hill, behind their makeshift perimeter lined with white plastic lawn chairs.
Despite the initial chaos of the event, Foster called it a success. Haitian volunteers came forward to organize the distribution and to help in providing security.
â€œThey were ones who got all of the kids up the hill and brought them first, not us. I think thatâ€™s an enormously positive step,â€ Foster said. â€œThe handful of times you may have seen a guy or two want to get rowdy, they policed those guys up themselves. I think that is very, very important to how this continues to flow.â€
While the soldiers may be on the front line of the fight for survival, their first mission is to provide security and help to pave the way for the tremendous amount of humanitarian aid waiting to be pushed forward by organizations around the globe. So as some passed out meals, other troops started today interviewing local people, helping to identify their needs, surveying the area and feeding information back to higher headquarters that senior officials will need to know to increase the amount of relief in this area.
And with every helicopter that lands comes more troops, more meals and more water.
â€œWe never look away from one [mission] just to do the other,â€ Foster said. â€œWith the assets and capabilities I have right now, I ask myself â€˜Where can I make the most good?â€™ Weâ€™re going to take every advantage of every opportunity we can to put aid and relief and supplies on anything thatâ€™s coming in.
â€œAt the end of the day, the intent is to get relief to the Haitian people,â€ he said.
The need ranges from those who hardly were affected to those whose lives were devastated. Some already have received aid, others have not. Officials have to identify those who need the aid most and get it to them first, Foster said.
â€œYou donâ€™t want to turn it into a â€˜survival of the fittest,â€™ where you find a place thatâ€™s easy to drop off supplies so you just continue to drop them off there,â€ he said. â€œThe rich in aid get richer. Thatâ€™s going to take some time to fully understand.â€
Medics also were out helping the injured today. One small boy came forward with his head severely bandaged. The Army medic worked to remove the crusted bandage to reveal the boyâ€™s scarred head. The wounds were several, but healing.
â€œTell the boy he is handsome, and will be just fine,â€ the medical told the interpreter.
Todayâ€™s distribution went much smoother, with the lines less pushed, and flowing more evenly. It appeared, officials said, that the Haitians realized the troops were here to stay, and that if they cooperated, more aid will come.
Much of the calm also can be attributed to the manner in which the soldiers take on their security duties. The security is far from heavy-handed. The leaders here have said they see no threat from the local people, and they try to project that in their presence. Today, the soldiers were told to sling their rifles across their back, rather than holding them in the ready front position as is customary for most of these battle-hardened soldiers.
Also, no orders are barked. Men are referred to as â€œSir,â€ and the women as â€œMaâ€™am.â€
Yesterday, when the crowd became rowdy and tried to push forward, the captain in charge told his troops simply to sit down in the grass and stop passing out the meals. This quieted the crowd, which quickly realized that if they did not calm down, they would not any rations.
â€œOur guys bring a lot of experience in different kinds of operations, so they know when they need to be more aggressive or have different kind of approach to bring some calm to the group,â€ said Army Maj. J.T. Eldridge, the squadron operations officer.
â€œI think the most important thing is to present that sense of calm — the sense that weâ€™re here to help and weâ€™re going to continue to help,â€ he said.
In the days after the quake, violence in some areas has impeded such U.S. military relief efforts, Army Lt. Gen. P.K. â€œKenâ€ Keen said. Keen, the top military commander in Haiti, toured the operating base today, surveying the layout.
â€œSecurity is a fundamental part of humanitarian assistance. You have to have a safe and secure environment in order to be successful,â€ Keen said.
The general was in Haiti when the earthquake hit. He was visiting the ambassadorâ€™s house, he said. â€œIt seemed like it would never stop, and you could immediately tell this was going to be a major challenge,â€ he said.
The general and the ambassador made their way out of the home, and from their vantage point saw the first glimpse of the damage left in its wake.
â€œWe could see across the city and hear the screams and we could tell from all the dust that this was a tremendous tragedy,â€ he said.
Keen said he called officials at U.S. Southern Command right then to ask for all the help they could deliver. The USS Carl Vinson turned around immediately, making its way toward Haiti.
Keen said he feels and understands the frustration of those who want more aid now.
â€œIdeally, when daylight came up, we would have been doing this,â€ Keen said referring to the soldiers handing out water. â€œBut this had to come from all over the world.â€
Still, with three other such distribution sites set up across the city, Keen said, what these soldiers are doing is a perfect example of more to come.
â€œI am satisfied that we are doing everything we can to get the supplies here as fast as we can and getting them to the people,â€ he said. â€œIâ€™m satisfied that weâ€™re doing everything that we can.â€
Table of contents for Haiti quake 2010
- Massive earthquake strikes Haiti
- Earthquake in Haiti – aftershocks continue
- Haiti earthquake aid
- Haiti quake damages pile up
- Horror in Haiti – the morning after the quake
- U.S. quickly responds to Haiti quake
- Infrastructure hurdles to Haiti quake relief
- U.S. Coast Guard on location in Haiti right now
- Strong aftershocks continue in Haiti
- PR Guard standing by – Gitmo damaged by Haiti quake
- Paras and Marines on alert for Haiti move
- Earthquake in Haiti update for January 13 evening
- Earthquake in Haiti – January 14 morning update
- Marines ready to assist Haiti after earthquake
- Earthquake in Haiti – Update for January 14 evening
- FEMA report on Haiti relief efforts for January 15
- Out of the night sky – Air Force secures Port-au-Prince airport
- Earthquake in Haiti – January 15 evening
- Haiti Quake Relief Funding Numbers
- But people are dying – thoughts on the Haitian disaster
- Aftershocks continue to rock Haiti
- Earthquake in Haiti – Update for January 16
- Haiti Quake Relief Funding Numbers for Jan 16
- Hospital ship Comfort sails for Haiti
- Baby delivered during Haiti evacuation
- Navy is delivering supplies to Haiti victims
- Hospital ship Comfort racing to Haiti
- Country club serves as forward base for Paras in Haiti
- Situation at Port-au-Prince airport improving
- Sanjay Gupta Assists Vinson Medical Team in Haiti
- USAID Update on the Haiti relief operation January 18
- Air drop to aid Haitian victims of earthquake
- Haiti Quake Relief Funding Numbers for Jan 18
- Earthquake in Haiti – morning update January 19
- Los Angeles rescuers save Haitian woman
- Stories from Haiti – update for Jan 20 morning
- American volunteers in Haiti
- American donations for Haiti earthquake relief – Jan 21
- Haiti earthquake relief update for Jan 21
- Haitians receiving care and support aboard Bataan
- Hospital ship Comfort healing, hugging Haitians
- Brief update on Navy and Marine relief efforts in Haiti Jan 23
- Fort Hood veterinary services unit sent to Haiti
- Harbor damage in Port-au-Prince
- American giving for Haiti relief as of January 25
- Comparison of Haiti donations to Katrina and the tsunami
- Haitian Coast Guard base becomes hub for quake relief
- Comparison of Haiti donations to Katrina and the tsunami Jan 28
- High tech warbird aids Haiti relief efforts
- High-speed ferrys en route to Haiti
- Southern Command briefs on Haiti situation
- Paras opening roads in Haiti
- Aid from Dominican Republic via Kentucky National Guard
- Haitian assistance stories for February 3
- Haitian relief efforts slow
- Marine calls Leogane Haiti home
- Haiti earthquake relief update for February 7
- Army medics at work in Haiti relief effort
- Haiti earthquake relief funding update for February 14
- Keeping Haitians informed
- A tent means a lot to Haitian orphans
- Italian troops aid paras in Haiti rubble clearance
- Landslide in Haiti tests Special Ops rescuers
- Navy and Marines bridge Haitian divide from government
- Haitian earthquake relief – update for February 28
- Haitian earthquake update – March 4
- Air Guard Engineers Help Haitians
- Things are baaaaad in Haiti
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