Soldiers in Iraq deal with unknowns after earthquake devastates Haiti
January 17, 2010
- Soldiers deployed to Iraq are facing uncertainty as they try to locate their families in Haiti.
BAGHDAD -- As Haitians and rescue workers from around the world work tirelessly to dig survivors from the rubble of a magnitude 7.0 earthquake that rocked Haiti Jan. 12, two Soldiers and one civilian here must helplessly watch the news from Iraq, trying to cope with the uncertainty of not knowing the whereabouts of their family.
When the earthquake hit at 4:53 p.m., it leveled schools, hospitals, government buildings and residential neighborhoods throughout the area, trapping people underneath the rubble.
Sgt. Stanly Rene, noncommissioned officer in charge of the 1st Armored Division chemical section, has an aunt, an uncle and two cousins who were in Haiti when the earthquake struck the capital, Port-au-Prince.
Chief Warrant Officer Walner Nelson, a human resources technician assigned to Division Special Troops Battalion, 1st Armored Division, also has family in Haiti in the area affected by the crisis.
Marie Jean-Baptiste, a civilian budget analyst with the U.S. Army here, has many family members in Haiti, including her mother, sister, aunts, uncles and many cousins.
"The worst part about this is being so far away, and not being able to do anything about it," Jean-Baptiste said.
One of Rene's cousins, from Connecticut, was visiting the family in Port-au-Prince when the earthquake struck, said Rene, a Brooklyn, N.Y., resident, who was born in Port-au-Prince.
By Jan. 15, all three had tried to contact Haiti by phone without success.
"I am sure that every other Haitian is doing the same thing, with similar results," Nelson said. "My mother and many of my cousins were living near the Haitian president's house, which was leveled during the quake. The worst part is not knowing if they're alive or dead, but I need to continue on with my mission."
Rene said he is impressed that several countries, including the United States, have been rushing to Haiti's aid, which, to him, shows that the world cares enough Haitians to help them in the aftermath of this latest disaster.
The three of them are coping with the disaster and uncertainty surrounding the crisis in different, but effective ways.
"Being from a country that is tormented by natural turmoil, being in 'Hurricane Alley' in the middle of the Gulf, I'm not immune to the emotions that come from something like this, but I've learned to cope with them," Rene explained. "I've learned to differentiate between personal [issues] and work. In a war zone, I can't be distracted while on duty."
Nelson is also remaining positive about the situation.
"I am doing just fine and I remain hopeful that my family somehow made it through," Nelson said.
Other Soldiers are also helping to keep their minds off of the earthquake. "It has been great being with the Army during this crisis," Jean-Baptiste said. "The division surgeon and two chaplains have stopped by the office to make sure I was doing all right. It's amazing how supportive everyone has been here."
"While I'm here, we try to crack jokes with each other," Rene said. "Sergeant Major Merika Barnes, [who is] in Kuwait, sent me e-mails making sure I was okay."
Rene said he will Soldier on in the wake of the disaster but admits he continues to struggle with so much uncertainty.
"I try to focus on other things but at the end of the day, I can't help but think about it," said Rene.
Though struggling with the destructive force of the earthquake and the overwhelming destructive potential yet to be revealed, Rene said he knows he has another family to lean on for support.
"I know I can talk to the chaplain if I need to," Rene said. "I don't want my fellow Soldiers to go out of their way and be distracted by my family's situation. I am trying to find out if there is anything I can do to help in this crisis."
<i>Editor's Note: Rene was able to contact his sister Jan. 15, and found out his family in Port-au-Prince is unharmed. One of Jean-Baptiste's aunts, who was living in the town destroyed by the earthquake, was found and will be all right, although her niece is still missing. Nelson still has not heard word about his family.</i>