MANDRIN, Haiti - From the moment they leave their encampment each morning on the outskirts of Gonaives, Haiti, to the moment they return each evening, the troops of Task Force Kout Men (Creole for Helping Hands), are demonstrating the United States' continued commitment to the people of Haiti.
Since the Jan. 12, 2010 earthquake in Haiti, the U.S. has contributed nearly $1.1 billion towards relief and recovery efforts. Another $1.15 billion has been pledged over the coming year which represents roughly 22 percent of the total pledged by nearly 40 other countries.
Currently, at the request of the Government of Haiti, there are 500 U.S. Army South, U.S. Army Reserve Component Forces, U.S. Navy and the U.S. Air Force personnel conducting various medical, dental, and engineering missions focused on humanitarian assistance in Haiti. Commanding them is La. National Guard Col. Michael Borrel.
Borrel feels it's good to give back. "So many from the U.S. and the international community came to Louisiana's aid following hurricanes Katrina and Rita that it makes me proud as a U.S. military officer to come here to do something for the Haitian people," said Borrel.
Borrel's Task Force Kout Men troops are part of an international effort known as New Horizons, a U.S. Southern Command sponsored; U.S. Army South conducted joint foreign military interaction/humanitarian exercise. On almost a day-to-day basis, Borrel's personnel interact with foreign troops and the local Haitian population. In fact, a contingent of troops from Belize arrived at the New Horizons-Haiti 2010 encampment on Friday, June 25. For the next month, they will be living and working side by side with engineers from the La. National Guard and the U.S. Navy Seabees' Naval Mobile Construction Battalion 25, out of Fort McCoy, Wis.
Some of the projects Belize troops will be working on began nearly two weeks ago when engineers from Task Force Kout Men's La. National Guard contingent began work on two new three-classroom buildings in Lycee Louis Diaquoi, the renovation of two schools in Desronvilles, and the new construction of a three-classroom school in Mandarin. All three of these projects will be completed by the La. National Guard. The task force's Seabees have also started work on a new, two-classroom school in Ecole National K. Georges, finished a water well renovation project at one school and conducting site surveys on two others.
Likewise, the task force's medical and dental teams from the U.S. Air Force's 319th Medical Group, Grand Forks, N.D., the U.S. Navy's Operational Health Support Unit (OHSU), Dallas and OHSU Great Lakes are doing much to provide medical assistance to the people of Haiti. In the past three weeks, over 12,000 patients have been treated during medical readiness training exercises in Saint Marc, L'Estere and Poteau.
U.S. Navy Seaman Apprentice Aydemir Sibel of Milwaukee, Wis., who is serving on her first New Horizons exercise, considers the opportunity to serve the people of Haiti as a member of Task Force Kout Men's medical readiness team a "great" one. "I volunteered to come when the earthquake first happened and am glad to finally be able to come here and help," said Sibel.
Providing much of the external security for the task force's engineer and medical humanitarian effort are members of the military from Argentina. They support the Mission of the United Nations for the stabilization of Haiti, or MINUSTAH. The MINUSTAH works closely with Haitian officials to ensure the safety and protection of personnel participating in the New Horizons training exercise.
Nevada National Guardsman Pfc. Patricia Arnold, a 485th Military Police Co. Soldier from Reno, Nev., considers the relationship between the MINUSTAH and her fellow Soldiers very supportive. "We usually have several hundred people show up for our medical readiness exercises so when we need a little extra back-up at the gate to keep folks moving safely through the line, we can always count on them," said Arnold.
The goal of the New Horizons mission is to provide tangible humanitarian engineer and medical assistance to the people of Haiti and support long-term U.S. recovery operations in Haiti while supporting the readiness of U.S. forces.
Borrel believes New Horizons readiness exercises such as the one his Task Force Kout Men troops are undertaking is paramount to properly training U.S. military personnel for deployments. "This experience can't be replicated and the lessons learned here will help our U.S. military personnel to be even better prepared and always there when our country needs us," said Borrel.