ARLINGTON, Va. (Army News Service, June 22, 2010) -- Army Col. Mike Borrell, the commander of Task Force Kout Men, which in Creole means "Helping Hands," has set two goals for his mission in Haiti this summer.
First, the 500-member task force will construct four new schools in the area with latrines and repaired water wells, and conduct 10 medical readiness and training exercises, or MEDRETEs.
"A great number of people - we think somewhere in the neighborhood of 100,000 -- moved north from Port-au-Prince ... after the devastation (from the Jan. 13 earthquake)," he told bloggers at a roundtable on June 17. "It caused an increase in the schools in the Gonaives area, so by us coming in here and building that new construction, it provides some relief for them."
Borrell's second goal is that he expects servicemembers to gain valuable training from their involvement in the task force.
"The training they're receiving down here cannot be replicated anywhere," he said. "Everything from the deployment back at home station to the port operations, to the ... airport operations here in Port-au-Prince, the convoy movements on the roads here. We're in a very austere environment in Haiti."
Along with Army and Air National Guard Soldiers are also Navy Seabees, active-duty Army and Army Reserve, who are operating in three locations: Gonaives, which is 95 miles north of Port-au-Prince; the port in Port-au-Prince; and the Reception Staging Onward-Movement and Integration (RSOI) site in Port-au-Prince.
"The Soldiers, Sailors and Airmen working on Task Force Kout Men are doing a tremendous job," Borrell said. "We have changed the lives of our local neighbors a lot. We're happy that we're here."
Along with this mission, Borrell said the Louisiana Guard which assisted in developing the task force name has been deployed worldwide. The 256th Infantry Brigade Combat Team is in Iraq and the state has troops defending its shoreline from the Gulf oil spill. The Louisiana Guard also conducts hurricane training exercises.
"Well, we're good," he said. "Actually, everything is planned out. Louisiana has had unbelievable experience and training when it comes to hurricane exercises over the last couple of years."
Borrell said the state also has the option of calling in the Guard from other states through the Emergency Management Assistance Compact.
"They have always stepped up to the plate to assist us with Soldiers and aircraft in the past," he said. "So to say that Louisiana would do it alone I think is probably incorrect."
Borrell said it feels good to give back after his state received such an outpouring of support after Hurricane Katrina.
"We had a lot of people from different countries and all through the United States come and give assistance to Louisiana and its people," he said. "So it feels very good to come here and help the people of Haiti. Every day that I go out on the project sites and the MEDRETE sites, I see the children. We're very well welcome here in Haiti. They have a lot of respect for the United States and the people of Louisiana."
(Lt. Col. Ellen Krenke serves with the National Guard Bureau.)