By Staff Sgt. John Seth LaughterFebruary 4, 2010
PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti (Feb. 2, 2010) -- There were smiles and these particular visions of joy were brought by the knowledge that the Haitian women would be able to feed their families for weeks instead of standing in line with their whole family to receive a single day's ration.
With vouchers in hand, promising 121 pounds of rice, these Haitian women patiently waited in line to receive their own heaping bag during the first day of a massive humanitarian aid surge.
During the first day of distribution, with nine sites open, hundreds of thousands of pounds of rice were given out to the people of Haiti, but that number will increase each day as more sites open. For the next 14 days, 16 distribution sites, set up throughout the city of Port-au-Prince, will give out more than 1.8 million pounds of food a day, feeding thousands of families.
Paratroopers from the 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborne Division, have played an important role in this surge. From the initial reconnaissance of the distribution sites, to carrying bags of food too large for their recipients, the 2nd BCT worked above and beyond the call of duty to ensure the humanitarian aid reached the people of Haiti.
From the first day in Haiti, patrols from the 2BCT have been searching out the areas most devastated by the earthquake and have also been discovering places where people have congregated after losing their homes or shelter.
Soldiers are sent out on foot patrols, said 1st Lt. Carrie Mayer, a platoon leader with Headquarters Company, 2nd Brigade Special Troops Battalion, so the command can get to know the area, see how many people are living there, and finding out what they need.
For the 14-day aid push, the government of Haiti designated the 16 possible areas for the food distribution, but it was the troopers of the 2nd BCT "Falcons," who refined the geographic areas down to specific sites based on crowd control and security, said Maj. Robel Ramirez, a plans officer with the brigade.
In order to ensure a smooth process, elements of U.S. Army Special Operations Command created various products for distribution based on public service announcements from the United Nations World Food Program.
"We created posters, flyers and radio messages promoting the World Food Program and the government of Haiti, informing the people what to expect during the surge, where to receive coupons for food, and where the distribution sites would be," said Capt. Ben Biver, operations detachment commander. "We are constantly out watching how our products are working and constantly judging their effectiveness."
More than 50,000 hand-cranked or solar-powered radios were distributed in the past week by the 2nd BCT and other organizations to ensure those key messages reached the population.
"We broadcast public-service announcements about the food surge through Commando Solo, (an EC-130 Hercules Aircraft designed to broadcast public-service announcements across various outlets, to include AM and FM frequencies) and also through contracts with local, Port-au-Prince radio stations," said Staff Sgt. Carl Kipp, brigade operations NCO.
Early in the morning, paratroopers began the process of distributing aid to the people of Haiti.
"We started at 4 a.m.," said Judah Rothenberger, a canon crewmember with B Battery, 2nd Battalion, 319th Airborne Field Artillery Regiment.
As soon as the food was loaded into vehicles and the Soldiers linked up with various non-government organizations, they moved to the distribution sites.
"When we got to the distribution site at 5 a.m., people were already lined up," stated Sgt. Hector Hernandez, a section chief with B Battery.
Once Soldiers arrived at the distribution site, World Vision Emergency Response teams began unloading the rice and troops set up security, Rothenberger said.
Maria Chiara Mussoni, representative from the WFP, said "From what I see today, it's very good. It seems to be very secure and very safe."
Throughout the morning and into the afternoon, the 2nd BCT paratroopers worked in concert with United States Agency for International Development, the WFP, the United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti, the Haitian government, and other non-government organizations, to distribute the bags of rice. Falcon troopers acted in a myriad of roles throughout the day.
Spc. Ryan Gonwa and Spc. Alexander Guzman, infantrymen with A Company, 2nd Battalion, 325th Airborne Infantry Regiment, carried bags of rice that were too large for their recipients and assisted them in splitting the 100-pound bags into smaller portions so that family members could share the weight.
At another location supported by 2-319th "Black Falcons," Pvt. Christopher Nordloh checked the vouchers of individuals in line to make sure they were in the right place and were informed of the procedures to receive their food quickly.
By mid-afternoon, 1,142,000 pounds of food had been distributed without any issues from the crowd or the distribution teams. "It's always a good day when you can help people," Hernandez said.
Ultimately, the goal of the 14-day food push is to reach 2 million people and transfer the humanitarian aid effort in Haiti from basic human needs such as food and water to reconstruction and the rebuilding of Port-au-Prince and Haiti. Tomorrow more distribution sites will open, more food will be delivered and more people will receive the food they need to restart their lives after the devastating earthquake.
"We're doing good here," said Rothenberger, "Most of these people need this food and we're doing the best job we can."
(Staff Sgt. John Seth Laughter serves with 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborne Division Public Affairs)