By Staff Sgt. John S. Laughter & Pfc. Kissta M. FeldnerMarch 25, 2010
A massive earthquake struck Haiti Jan. 12. Two days later, paratroopers from the 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborne Division, were on the ground in the capital, Port-au-Prince.
Within 48 hours of the massive earthquake that struck Haiti on Jan. 12, paratroopers from the 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborne Division, were on the ground in the capital, Port-au-Prince. As scenes of the devastation began circling the globe, these paratroopers were in the dust of crumbling buildings and heat of a blazing tropical sun, distributing food, water, medical care, and more importantly, a true desire to provide humanitarian aid and support to the people.
"There are guys here who just hit the ground and they're already helping," said Capt. Jason Alexander, commander of A Battery, 2nd Battalion, 319th Airborne Field Artillery Regiment, 2nd BCT. "I think that's indicative of the 82nd."
In order to expand the area in which the 2nd BCT could provide aid, each of the five battalions within the brigade created a forward operating base in a different portion of the city, to include areas like the Cite Soleil, the Petionville Club and the University Hospital. Once there, patrol teams began searching the areas most devastated by the earthquake, discovering places where people had congregated after losing their homes or shelters, and finding out what kind of aid people needed most.
As the operation name "Unified Response" indicates, the 2nd BCT "Falcons" have been working hand-in-hand with the Navy, Marine Corps, Air Force, U.N. Stabilization Mission in Haiti, United States Agency for International Development, World Food Program, the government of Haiti, volunteer organizations and community leaders.
"The Falcons are reaching and helping the people of Haiti as fast as resources become available, and we are doing everything possible to speed the process," said Lt. Col. Tim Kehoe, 2nd BCT deputy commander.
For the first two weeks, the humanitarian mission was targeted at providing for basic human needs. But, by the end of January, the Falcons began working with the USAID, WFP, and the Haitian government for a 14-day "food surge," distributing more than 1 million pounds of food each day at 14 different sites. The paratroopers distributed 100-pound-bags of rice-rations designed to feed a family of six for 14 days-which allowed Haitians to concentrate on rebuilding rather than searching for food.
The government of Haiti designated the areas of food distribution for the two-week push, but it was the troopers of the 2nd BCT who refined the geographic areas down to specific sites based on crowd control and security, said Maj. Robel Ramirez, plans officer, Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 2nd BCT.
Soldiers with 1st Bn., 325th Airborne Infantry Reg., also ran a civil military operations center, where they interviewed locals in order to provide them jobs working with Soldiers as interpreters, guides and drivers-about 2,000 citizens were interviewed each day. The interviews also gave the Soldiers information about parts of the city that hadn't yet received aid, and how the locals felt about the U.S. being in Haiti, said Sgt. 1st Class Brandon Lemmons, a forward observer with the regiment's Headquarters and Headquarters Company.
Another vital service the Falcons have provided in Port-au-Prince is rubble removal. Paratroopers assigned to 2nd Brigade Special Troops Bn. worked with the Center of National Equipment, a local road construction company, to clear roads throughout the city. This partnership provided a safer living environment for citizens a safer living environment, and made it easier for Soldiers and organizations to provide aid. "This is a huge mission," said Maj. Richard Ojeda, operations officer, 2nd BSTB. "The streets need to be cleaned so we can get food, water and medicine to people in need."
At press time, the 2nd BCT, in partnership with multiple organizations, was continuing to provide humanitarian aid and assistance to the people of Haiti. Every new day brings more challenges to the Falcons, but they say they are determined to overcome any obstacle, and help Haitians in their time of need. "We're doing good here," said Pfc. Judah Rothenberger, a cannon crewmember with B Battery, 2nd Bn., 319th Airborne Field Artillery Reg. "We're doing the best job we can."