U.S. Army South first responders return from Haiti
February 8, 2010
FORT SAM HOUSTON, Texas (Feb. 8, 2010) -- Hours after the earthquake struck Haiti, members of U.S. Army South's Humanitarian Assistance Survey team were notified that they would be departing for Port-au-Prince the next day.
The team, made up of Army South engineers, departed San Antonio on Jan 13, to work with governmental and non-governmental organizations to assess the damage in Haiti and to build the deployable Joint Command and Control Center, which would later be the headquarters for Joint Task Force-Haiti.
"As part of the Humanitarian Assistance Survey team, we went ahead to survey how bad things were in Haiti," said Capt. Kelly Pajak, an engineer planner for Army South. "We were the eyes on the ground for the commander. We assessed infrastructure, routes and ground lines of communication so that we could determine what needed to be fixed and when."
Every day, members of the Humanitarian Assistance Survey team worked side by side with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, USAID, the Government of Haiti, the Disaster Assistance Response Team and other organizations to determine the best way to get government buildings back to working order.
"Our goal was to assess the government buildings first, because that is where services are provided to the people of Haiti," said Pajak.
On top of providing assessments to the buildings in Haiti, the Army South Humanitarian Assistance Survey team also built the deployable Joint Command and Control Center, the headquarters where the Joint Task Force-Haiti commander would later run military operations. The deployable Joint Command and Control Center is the information hub for Joint Task Force-Haiti, joint services and other governmental organizations to plan and conduct operations during Operation Unified Response.
"We all wanted to be on the ground directly helping the people of Haiti," said Rosa Santoni, general engineer for Army South. "Though the deployable Joint Command and Control Center didn't appear to be providing direct support to the people of Haiti - it actually did. The deployable Joint Command and Control Center put Joint Task Force-Haiti into operation. It allowed them to get organized and begin helping the people of Haiti."
Army South quickly began the building of the deployable Joint Command and Control Center and within four days had completed the frame that would support the main tents of the command center.
"We wouldn't have been able to complete our mission without interagency support and teamwork," said Pajak. "It was important to have open lines of communication and build strong relationships with each other so that we could focus on helping the people of Haiti."
"We didn't have a lot of materials to work with when we first showed up," said Santoni. "Teamwork was the key to success. We all worked around the clock to complete the mission."
According to Santoni, the work was very intense yet no one complained because the ultimate end state was providing assistance to the people of Haiti. Pajak agreed, commenting that the Humanitarian Assistance Survey team was deployed and utilized exactly how they were supposed to be.
"We completed our mission and did what we were sent to do," said Pajak. "We had immediate impacts on the command and therefore, to the people of Haiti."