Italians take the lead in rubble removal mission on the streets of Port-au-Prince
February 18, 2010
- 2nd Brigade Combat Team soldiers work with Italian soldiers to clear rubble from the streets of Port-au-Prince.
- Paratroopers have been conducting this mission with CNE for three weeks, and just began working with the Italians.
- Although the language barrier makes it difficult for the soldiers to communicate with the Italians, it does not affect their mission.
- 2BCT Paratroopers are trying to show the Italians how to cunduct security on their own so the Italians can take control of the mission.
Buildings lean dangerously, looming over soldiers in the street below attempting to remove mounds of debris, the remains of structures that have already crumbled. As a tractor fills its bucket with a new load of fragmented concrete, it snags a downed power line, causing loose bricks to fall from the structure above. This scene is evidence of why the engineering mission here is so important.
When the road is cleared, it will become a safe route for international aid organizations to access areas of Port-au-Prince in need of assistance, as well as increase traffic flow, open the streets for vendors, and generally enhance functionality of the city.
Soldiers from the Italian Task Force have teamed up with Paratroopers with 2nd Brigade Special Troops Battalion, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, in addition to their continued work with the Center of National Equipment (CNE), to clear the streets of the city.
The Paratroopers are using their loaders and Bobcat utility work machines to remove the massive amount of rubble left by the Jan. 12 earthquake. But, their mission would be much more time consuming if it weren't for the addition of the Italians' large machinery. Each day the Italians will be introducing more equipment as the mission progresses.
"(The Italians) have better assets," said Sgt. Robert Medders, an Ackerman, Mississippi native and engineer with 2BSTB, while working with the Italian soldiers on Feb. 17. "Their equipment has come in handy," Medders said.
Additional soldiers with 2nd Battalion, 325th Airborne Infantry Regiment, 2BCT, have been securing the site, roping off streets and stopping curious locals from entering the hazardous area. In the few days they have partnered with the Italians, the troopers are impressed with their work. "They're good at what they do," said Sgt. 1st Class Ernest Rodriguez, a Camden, New Jersey native and platoon leader of 2nd Plt., D Co., 2nd Battalion, 325th Airborne Infantry
Regiment, 2BCT. "They're pretty much doing it all on their own," he said.
A 2BCT trooper stands with a group of Italian soldiers, taking a break from their work as the dust settles. They share a cigarette and swap unit patches - a custom that has become common among soldiers while working with their foreign counterparts - however, they exchange few words. This is not due to hard feelings or lack of interest in one another, but because neither speaks the others' language.
1st Corporal Giuseppe Colletto, an Italian army engineer, said at times it is difficult communicating with the American soldiers due to the language barrier and lack of interpreters, but they have had no problems completing their mission. Colletto said he is used to overcoming this obstacle after working with U.S. troops in Afghanistan, but for some of the 2BCT Paratroopers this partnership is a completely new experience. "It's cool working with another country," said Medders. "Everyone works a bit different."
The Paratroopers are showing the Italians how to coordinate with CNE, the United Nations and local police so they can pull their own security, without U.S. assistance. The Italians have everything they need to do this job on their own, Rodriguez said. "These guys are outstanding," he said. "They have a good understanding of what's going on here and they'll get the job done."
But as an airborne infantry unit, the capabilities of the 2BCT engineers are limited in the face of such overwhelming destruction. "Our light engineers are incredibly skilled," said Lt. Col. Tim Kehoe, deputy commanding officer, 2BCT, "but their light equipment is not designed for this type of mission."
The introduction of Italian soldiers and equipment has made the difference in the rubble removal and street clearing mission but there is still so much to be done. "We are filling the gap in support of CNE until the right elements arrive to complete this mission," Kehoe said.