The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

January 22, 2010

ZACHARY HUBBARD | Haiti’s best hopes: God almighty and the U.S. military

For The Tribune-Democrat

JOHNSTOWN — “Hurricane Hugo” continues to prove he’s the biggest mass of hot air in the Caribbean.

I’m talking about Venezuela’s preposterous president, Hugo Chavez.

Wailing like a baby needing a diaper change (and probably for the same reason), he continues to amuse with his incessant Castro-wannabe rants against America.

This time Chavez is concerned about the number of military personnel the United States is sending to Haiti. He complains America is taking advantage of the situation in order to “occupy” Haiti, as if we don’t have enough problems.

In reality, Chavez is probably shaken because he just realized Caracas isn’t much farther from Washington than Port-au-Prince. Not to worry, Amigo! America won’t invade Caracas anytime soon, although you do make it tempting.

As for helping the people of Haiti, it’s simply the American way – something your tiny mind will never comprehend.

Next to God almighty, the U.S. military offers Haiti the best hope for making it through this crisis. It will play a key role in Haiti for the foreseeable future. The nonstop media coverage won’t pay the military its due. Personal experience in relief operations in Hurricane Andrew, Somalia and the former Yugoslavia have given me some insight into the incredible challenges our military faces in Haiti.

America’s armed forces are the world’s best humanitarian relief organization. This is attributable to two factors.

First, America’s global reach has no equal. No nation comes close to the Unites States’ ability to project power on a global scale. The strategic airlift capabilities of the Air Force and the sealift capabilities of the Navy are unequaled, as are the force projection capabilities of the Army and Marine Corps.

Only America can deliver the manpower and the medical, logistics and construction support needed to help the people of Haiti overcome this disaster.

Second, America’s fighting men and women have no equal. Ronald Reagan said, “No arsenal, or no weapon in the arsenals of the world, is as formidable as the will and moral courage of free men and women.”

He was right. No military force in history has given so much, with no expectation of receiving something in return.

Advanced elements from the U.S. Air Force were dispatched to Haiti almost immediately after the earthquake. Getting the Port-au-Prince airport open was a key requirement. The Air Force accomplished this in short order, establishing air-traffic control, installing runway lights to allow 24/7 operations and organizing the available tarmac space to accommodate the greatest possible number of aircraft on the ground simultaneously.

The airport is critical for the initial stages of the relief operations, but opening port facilities is a top priority. Only ships can carry the massive volume of materiel Haiti needs.

Army and Navy divers will assist in clearing damaged vessels and debris blocking access to the port facilities.

Military engineers will support the damage assessment and repair of port facilities.

They may also construct temporary port facilities.

The president ordered the aircraft carrier Carl Vinson to Haiti a short time after the disaster occurred. The Vinson picked up 19 additional helicopters and extra medical personnel along the way.

America’s carriers have small but state-of-the-art surgical suites. They can also produce 400,000 gallons of drinking water per day from seawater.

The Vinson’s helicopters will deliver medical and other relief supplies and evacuate the most severely injured.

The 22nd Marine Expeditionary Unit from Camp Lejeune, N.C., was also dispatched. The MEU has a reinforced infantry battalion and a supporting air component, with more helicopters.

It is embarked upon a group of U.S. Navy amphibious ships. These ships bring more emergency medical facilities to the scene. The MEU can self sustain for 30 days and can deliver relief supplies ashore without the need for port facilities, using its amphibious vehicles and helicopters.

The 2nd Brigade of the 82nd Airborne Division brings 3,500 soldiers to the mix. It has substantial helicopter assets, giving it the capability to spread out across the devastated region to gather information, evaluate the situation, evacuate the severely injured and begin providing relief.

Soldiers from the 82nd Airborne and Marines of the 22 MEU will make contact with and provide support to the local authorities, international relief organizations, U.N. peacekeepers and the international police that were in Haiti even before the earthquake.

Army Public Affairs and Psychological Operations units will play a key role in keeping the Haitian public informed about the operation, thereby helping maintain hope and public order.

Army and Marine helicopters will be critical until military engineers succeed in clearing the main roads. The initial priorities for the helicopters includes transporting assessment teams; delivering food, bottled water and medical supplies; and transporting severely injured civilians to military medical units.

When the main roads are cleared, Army and Marine Corps heavy truck units will join the relief effort. Army and Marine units will begin expanding their presence throughout the devastated areas as the roads are cleared.

They will set up and operate from locations where they can best support the people of Haiti, and they’ll stay until relieved. They’ll also plan and provide security and transportation support for many of the non-military relief organizations in Haiti.

Army Civil Affairs units will help plan and coordinate this.

A few days ago, none of the servicemen and women supporting this effort was planning to go to Haiti. Many had just returned from deployments to Iraq or Afghanistan and were expecting some long-awaited rest. Now they’re working seven days a week and living in the most austere conditions imaginable.

They’re taking malaria prophylaxis because Haiti is mosquito-infested. Many have sore arms or backsides from being stuck with multiple inoculations. They’ll live under canvas; the remaining buildings aren’t safe.

They won’t shower for weeks, because water is scarce. They’ll bathe as best they can with the box of baby wipes tucked away in their rucksack.

They’ll drink bottled water and eat combat rations from plastic pouches for weeks. They won’t complain, because they realize the gravity of the situation.

Before going to bed tonight, pray for the people of Haiti and thank God for the men and women who selflessly serve in America’s armed forces.

There are none better, Mr. Chavez – and don’t you dare forget it.

Zachary Hubbard is a retired Army officer and a freelance writer residing in Upper Yoder Township. He is a member of The Tribune-Democrat’s readership advisory committee.