Unity of U.S. Government efforts bring aid to Haiti after earthquake

  • Published
  • By Sgt. 1st Class Victor Aguirre
  • Special Operations Command South

U.S. Southern Command (SOUTHCOM) launched a small command and control element from Special Operations Command South (SOCSOUTH), leading Joint Task Force-Haiti (JTF-Haiti) to support humanitarian assistance and disaster relief operations (HA/DR), Aug. 17.

JTF-Haiti, established in Port-au-Prince and led by Rear Adm. Keith Davids, provided air medical evacuations, delivered aid, and transported supplies over 660 missions carried out by 27 aircraft from all U.S. military branches. In addition, foreign partners such as the Dutch, French, and British supplemented HA/DR efforts by delivering aid or using naval vessels and aircraft to save lives and alleviate suffering of the Haitian people.

"Less than 24 hours after the earthquake, the U.S. Coast Guard began lifesaving efforts and delivery of aid, a testament to the urgency with which we come to help our partners in their time of need," said SOUTHCOM Commander Adm. Craig Faller. "Our Task Force worked around the clock to save lives. We had all components on deck: the Coast Guard, the Army, the Puerto Rican National Guard, Navy ships and Marines offshore, and Air Force transport planes all providing support."

Haiti suffered a 7.2 magnitude earthquake in the nation's southern peninsula, resulting in over 2,000 deaths, 12,000 injuries, and 150,000 homes destroyed on Aug. 14.

"Working with the Haitian civil defense and the U.S. responders, we have been able to assist or rescue, through medevac, over 470 people," U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) Administrator Samantha Power said. "With U.S. Government (USG) assets, we have been able to deliver over 570,000 lbs. of vital aid as part of a broad American response."

JTF-Haiti comprised of the U.S. Air Force, Army, Navy, and Marine Corps, and partnered with forces from the UK, France, and the Netherlands, created a quick response force to support USAID. With these assets, JTF-Haiti launched a multitude of capabilities and talent from across SOUTHCOM and the Department of Defense to meet the humanitarian challenges in Haiti.

"I would like to thank Adm. Faller and the U.S. military for their tremendous partnership as we worked to save lives and respond to the needs of many people in Haiti," said Power. "The U.S. Government has come together as one team to coordinate a response that supports the welfare and dignity of the Haitian people."

USAID led the U.S. unity of effort through the Disaster Assistance Response Team (DART) supported by JTF-Haiti. Working with other multinational partners and non-governmental organizations (NGO), humanitarian assistance efforts were coordinated with and in direct support of the Haitian Directorate of Civil Protection (DPC).

“We are here at the request of the Haitian government and working with our federal and international partners, USAID and SOUTHCOM,” said SOCSOUTH and JTF-Haiti Commander Rear Adm. Keith Davids. “Our mission is to save lives, bringing our unique capabilities to the aid of the people here in Haiti.”

The International Office of Migration and the DPC established a field medical hospital on the airfield to quickly treat trauma patients and coordinated transfers to local hospitals. Additionally, local NGOs assisted in finding supplies, separating aid packages, and preparing them for aerial transport with USAID and U.S. military personnel.

"No development agency, army, or diplomatic core can import a perfect humanitarian response from afar," said Power. "You need local expertise and local leadership to reach communities in need. The most important aspect is the partnership with the Haitian people."

"Many people need shelter as they are suffering from the natural disaster," Haitian Prime Minister Ariel Henry said. "We thank our friends who came to help us and allow us to find the assistance that the Haitian people need.

JTF-Haiti delivered vital aid with a relatively small footprint of 100 military personnel at Port-au-Prince and under 2,000 personnel in the region. Most forces stood ready outside of Haiti on the USS Arlington, USS Billings, and USNS Burlington, or with aircraft from JTF-Bravo and the U.S. Marine Corps operating from Naval Station Guantanamo Bay.

"We have a large number of helicopters, ships, air transport planes, and most important willing and passionate members of my team are here to help," said Faller, as the task force mission gained momentum in its first week of operations. "Our focus has been working closely with our Haitian partners to deliver aid as rapidly as possible."

The U.S. military brings many specialties to a humanitarian crisis: mission coordination and heavy-lift logistical capabilities through airlift and sea-ferrying equipment. These two military abilities allow quick and decisive delivery of essential goods to remote locations.

“The SOUTHCOM Situational Assessment Team] is made up of professionals that are trained to evaluate the conditions of a country after a natural disaster,” Davids said. “They also liaise or work with the U.S. embassy country team to determine shortfalls to create reports that help U.S. Southern Command get a full picture of the aftermath of the earthquake.”

SOCSOUTH personnel that comprise the SSAT have developed relations with interagency partners and U.S. embassies through consistent engagement with partner nations, military-to-military exchanges, and exercises. Developed relations allow for interoperability between nations to rapidly execute operations.

“USAID Administrator Samantha Power and I are here to demonstrate how the U.S. response is truly a whole-of-government effort," said Faller. "We are here to help.”

Humanitarian assistance and disaster relief operations culminated in a large delivery of more than 100,000 lbs. of aid to the city of Jeremie via U.S. Navy vessels, where ground transport of aid had been cut off due to damage to roads and bridges.

"The Haitian government and its partners are working together to face the challenge ahead," said Henry. "We have the difficult task of getting these communities back on their feet so the economy can start again."

The unpredictability of natural disasters requires SOCSOUTH personnel to be in a constant state of readiness to respond quickly to emerging crises in the region. SOUTHCOM components have supported USAID-led disaster relief missions in Nicaragua, Honduras, and Guatemala in the aftermath of previous disasters, most recently in 2020, after Hurricane Eta and Hurricane IOTA struck Central America.

“I am very proud of every person, both military and civilian, involved in providing aid to the people of Haiti,” said Davids. “They are working long hours, coordinating across oceans, across languages and they are making a difference here.”