Haiti Update: From Travis

I received this email from Travis to pass out to people so I thought it would be a good idea to post it on our blog for everyone to read. I will also attach the pictures he sent but they are pretty small so hope you can tell what they are.

Alright, to begin….

Martin Luther King Jr. holiday weekend disappeared and four of us (Battalion Commander, harbormaster, a Sergeant, and me) drive to Ft. Bragg, NC to jump on a bird headed to the Caribbean for a beach vacation. Mission unknown. General idea: humanitarian aid. Actual nuts and bolts of what we are going to do in Haiti? Hopefully they tell us when we get there. We get on a C17. We try to sleep in the tiny troop seats and on the freezing cold floor. We fly over the beautiful islands and land in a 3rd world dump. Literally the poorest country in the Northern Hemisphere. The Hatians meet us at the airport, give us cocktails and flowers and backrubs. We drive to the 5-star hotel and discuss the needs of the people over bacon-wrapped T-Bone steak, then move to the hot tub to discuss our exit strategy. I’m kidding, of course. There is no exit strategy. And it was only sirloin steak.

The air force was here for about a week running the airport, and the 82nd Airborne had come in and helped secure the city (Port-au-Prince), which more or less meant detering the looting of food warehouses. There happens to be food warehouses here because the UN, World Health Organization, World Food Program, USAID, Gospel Mothers of the 3rd Reich for the Betterment of Livestock Development and Racing (or GM3RBLDR, for short), among others, have been here for years. They have been feeding the thousands and thousands of super poor here. The earthquake knocked down buildings and drove a lot of people to the street, for sure, but there was a lot of people living in the street before. The shack cities seemed to survive just fine (or were just easily rebuilt). If anything, the earthquake flooded more support (*cough* American $$) than ever before. Yeah for more welfare!

The Sergeant and harbormaster immediately go to the port, sleep on the ground, and start the actual task of getting boats to shore to offload cargo (humanitarian aid or HA). The Battalion Commander (BC) and I go to the US Embassy. We rode a blackhawk helicopter there, jammed in like sardines…enough that one of the crew had to strap in and leave the door open, but it is always awesome riding in a helicopter. Always. The embassy is jammed full of military, Non-Government Organizations (NGOs), Government Organizations (FEMA), and some embassy workers. People slept in cubicles or outside or in hallways. I managed to talk my way into two cots from FEMA and found a computer server closet, which, A) was super air conditioned and B) dark. That was home sweet home for about a week. I managed to snag some single matresses and some pillows from a company doing disaster relief resource as well. Not bad livin’. If you don’t hang around me much, I’m a doer. I don’t like to sit around and discuss things for too long without actually just making a decision and going with it. Give me a couple of options and let’s get to work to make it happen. That is not how the upper levels of the military (joint effort, no less) work. It is much preferred to pick six different courses of action, have 25 people do the same task, then talk about the different results and try again. Without actually doing anything. The meetings were three 1-star generals, 6-8 full bird colonels, 15-20 lieutenant colonels, some majors, oh, and a 1st lieutenant (me, if you didn’t know). The talking was so far above my level of knowledge (or care) that I wanted to just bang my head against a wall or simply raise my hand, tell the group the group to stop the talking and start the doing (and end my career).

We did eventally leave. With applicable results? Ask me when I get back. Since we had no vehicles, we had a normal SUV with a local driver that took us to the airport or seaport or just on a sightseeing tour. We went to a distribution point and camp where our driver’s family was staying and actually got to meet his family. Really nice folks. The people here A) hate the Haiti government, B) hate the UN, C) hate the French, and D) love Americans. We hear and see “America forever” often, but I imagine this is only because we are the new kids in town with food, they think we are handing out bags of money, and if the US annexed Haiti they would have it better than they do now. I don’t think the US is into the adopting of countries, especially those without oil reserves, so I anticipate all the love quickly draining to the “gimmies,” which have already started from some of the brat kids, to the “go aways”. Which I will gladly do. For the time being though, the people here are genuinely nice. They have a tough life. Only pictures can give a glimpse, but you would have to see it to believe it. Rivers of trash. Makeshift shacks. Cutting a railroad tie with a handsaw…long ways. People here carry everything on their heads. Baskets of oranges, five gallon buckets of water, 50lb bags of rice, all manner of fruit/vegetable/small child…great posture though! Even super old ladies lug the heavy stuff on their head. One older lady managed, with a 5 gallon bucket on her head, to squat down, take a crap on the road, stand back up, put a ladle in the bucket, pull out some water to put in a pan she had in her hand, and not spill a drop. People pay to see that stuff in Vegas. Maybe not the crap part…

There is an inexplicable number of cows, goats, sheep, chickens, and pigs here. In the city. All over the streets. A few dogs, one cat, rats, lizards…but livestock all over the place. Roaming free. How hungry are you for real? Apparently the owner knows what is his and if someone kills it, they could themselves be killed. And they eat trash and wallow in the trash rivers of nastiness. I don’t know if I’d eat them either.

But I digress. Back to the port. The earthquake took it’s toll here. The entire north pier, where all load on/load off container handling equipment is located, sank into the ocean. A piece of the south pier collapsed into the water, and the rest of the pier supports are almost non-existant. Some don’t even touch the bottom of the pier.

Fun fact: Fort Eustis never gets significant snow. I leave and they get a bunch. It’s 94 with 75% humidity here. In February. June will be mild, I’m sure.

Travis is front of the boats at the port.

Lines of people

Giant crack in the concrete in the cargo area

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  • redleg1971
    February 11, 2010 at 5:45 am

    Travis, your page popped up on my Google news alerts. ON the downhill slide here at CGSC, learning how to be a talker, or at least how to make coffee for the talkers, and then to CENTCOM this summer. Hope all is well, and thanks for what you are doing. From the sounds of it, you may still have snow on the ground when you get home. Keep the BC and Joe out of trouble. MAJ George