Black Hawks on alert for Haiti
A UH-60 Black Hawk from the Puerto Rico Army National Guard prepares to takeoff in this file photo. Three are now on alert for possible deployment to Haiti following Tuesday's earthquake.

ARLINGTON, Va. (Jan. 13, 2010) -- The chief of the National Guard Bureau said today that the Army and Air National Guard are prepared to help in the humanitarian relief effort in Haiti.

Specifically, the Puerto Rico National Guard, which is one of the closest U.S. territories in the area, has personnel and equipment on standby.

The Puerto Rico Army Guard has alerted three UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters from the 1/111th Aviation Company along with 12 crew members, and the Puerto Rico Air Guard has called up two C-130 aircraft from the 156th Airlift Wing with 21 support personnel, said Army Capt. Paul Dahlen, the territory's public affairs officer.

He said the aircraft have anticipated deployment times, but they are waiting for final approvals.

"Our thoughts and prayers are with the Haitian people, who have been devastated by this earthquake," said Air Force Gen. Craig R. McKinley, chief of the National Guard Bureau. "The National Guard stands ready to work with the Army and the Air Force to provide humanitarian assistance to Haiti when called upon."

U.S. Southern Command is coordinating with the State Department and U.S. Agency for International Development to assess the situation after a 7.0 magnitude earthquake left perhaps thousands of people dead and many more trapped beneath collapsed buildings, officials reported.

"If we are asked by the Department of State and the Department of Defense to provide assistance, we would do so in a supporting role," according to a statement from SOUTHCOM. "The U.S. Agency for International Development's Office of Foreign Disaster Assistance is the lead U.S. government agency for U.S. disaster relief efforts."

Command officials said they will deploy a team of 30 people to Haiti today, including military engineers, operational planners and a command and control group and communication specialists on the two C-130 Hercules aircraft from the Puerto Rico Air National Guard. The team will work with U.S. Embassy personnel as well as Haitian, United Nations and other officials to assess the situation to provide follow-on support.

The last time the National Guard supported relief efforts in Haiti was 2008, when eight Air National Guard medical personnel were onboard the USS Kearsarge when it was diverted to Haiti, which was devastated by Hurricane Ike.

"With nearly 450,000 people throughout 54 states and territories, the National Guard can deploy and respond to any disaster as needed, anywhere," said Walt Debany, a spokesman for the National Guard Bureau.

According to news reports, the quake was felt in the Dominican Republic as well as Guantanamo Bay.

Arkansas and Rhode Island Guardsmen currently deployed to Joint Task Force Guantanamo also felt the tremors from yesterday's earthquake in Haiti.

Air Force Lt. Col. Denise Boyer, the commander of the 474th Expeditionary Combat Engineering Squadron, which is made up of about 50 Air National Guard members, said she was in her tent when the earthquake hit yesterday after duty hours.

"The tent shook, the floor shook, everything kind of rumbled around," she said. "Honestly, it felt like a big 18-wheeler rolled by outside."

Boyer said they have previously experienced seismic activity at Gitmo, but "this was definitely bigger than what we had in the past."

The Navy engineers at Gitmo are dealing with some water breaks, but Boyer said her engineers are not responsible for any hard structures on the base.

"Tents fare a lot better in an earthquake," she said.

(Lt. Col. Ellen Krenke serves with the National Guard Bureau.)

Page last updated Wed January 13th, 2010 at 14:19