Since the beginning of Operation Unified Response, one of the primary missions of the Navy and Marine Corps civil affairs teams attached to the 22nd Marine Expeditionary Unit and the Bataan Amphibious Ready Group is to unite the people and governments of earthquake menaced Haiti together with non-governmental organizations and international aid workers.
Using a facility called a civil military operations center, Marines from 4th Civil Affairs Group, attached to the 22nd MEU and sailors from Maritime Civil Affairs Team 207, worked diligently to bring all these factors together to help organize a combined local and international effort to stabilize the Caribbean nation.
“The mission of the CMOC was to act as a bridge between the people and the local government,” said Staff Sgt. Jerrick D. Croston, a civil affairs team chief with 4th CAG and the 22nd MEU.
The CMOC is located in the town of Carrefour, just outside the nation’s capital city of Port-au-Prince, on Landing Zone Argonaut, a small encampment operated by the Marines and sailors of Battalion Landing Team, 3rd Battalion, 2nd Marine Regiment, 22nd MEU.
At the facility, civil affairs personnel met with town leaders and NGO officials to plan distributions and combined operations for the people of the local area.
“As local Haitians and organizations had needs, they brought them up to the CMOC,” Croston, a Philadelphia native, continued. “The major achievement of the CMOC was getting the mayors [of Carrefour] and the local government to work with the community leaders of Carrefour.”
Croston explained that many of the one million strong population of Carrefour have strong loyalty to a few key leaders in the community, who are mostly pastors from local religious organizations.
“After the earthquake people looked to them,” he added. “So we brought the local leaders and the local government together.”
Bringing the local leaders and their followers together with the Haitian government and several NGOs, the Marines and sailors of the CMOC streamlined the aid process for the people of Carrefour, transferring the primary role of providing humanitarian aid, from the U.S. Military to the Haitian local and national governments.
The civil affairs personnel conducted the operation in multiple-steps, beginning with an assessment phase where the Marines and sailors found out what problems were occurring in the area. Once problems were identified, the personnel worked with Haitian leaders and NGOs to solve the issues.
“At this point we have transitioned the role of the CMOC to the Haitian government and are back in the assessment phase,” Croston explained. “We are making sure the needs are being taken care of.”
Captain Rebecca A. Popleiski, a civil affairs team leader with 4th CAG and the 22nd MEU, said the group of civil affairs specialists have come a long way in the month they have worked in Haiti.
The Marines began their operations in the towns of Petite Goave, Grand Goave and Leogone before moving to Carrefour. Those three areas had less involvement with community leaders and worked more specifically with NGOs, where as the Carrefour area of operations had a lot more grass-roots involvement, she explained.
“When we pull out of here, all the cities are going to be able to stand on their own,” Popleiski, a Washington D.C. native, explained. “Whether that’s local government or national government … they have stepped up and taken charge.”
With the aid of the Navy-Marine Corps civil affairs teams from the 22nd MEU and Bataan Amphibious Ready Group, the government of Haiti has taken primary responsibility for humanitarian aid distributions in the Carrefour area. Marines and sailors from the 22nd MEU have become a supplementary force as the Haitian Coast Guard and international NGOs take over.
Story by Cpl. Bobbie Curtis