Brazilian Air Force Mission Delivers Peace To Haiti
By Dialogo October 01, 2011
The Republic of Haiti, a sovereign nation in the center of the Americas, is a Caribbean country that occupies the western end of the island of Hispaniola. Serious political crises throughout Haiti’s history led the United Nations Security Council to approve the deployment of the Multinational Interim Force in 2004, led by Brazil. Later that year, because the situation was considered a threat to international peace, the council established the U.N. Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH), also led by Brazil, which currently includes members of the Brazilian Air Force as part of its contingent of peacekeeping Soldiers.
With reveille, the bugler rouses us for another day of work. Dawn is scarcely breaking in Port-au-Prince, but it is already stuffy and humid, a sign that the night was rainy. Dozens of military personnel get up from their bunks. Some go to the gym; others start jogging, and those who are on duty get ready for their day’s work: guaranteeing a safe and stable environment for the Haitian population. We are at Camp Charlie, the base for the First Brazilian Battalion, known as BRABATT 1, which is part of MINUSTAH.
A young lieutenant with a blue-green camouflage uniform stands out from the other military personnel, who wear the Brazilian Army’s olive-green pattern, but his task is no different from that to which they are all assigned. Inserted within BRABATT 1’s 3rd Company is the Air Force Infantry Squad.
The Brazilian Air Force (FAB) unit, under the command of 1st Lieutenant Marcos Vinícius Oliveira Pereira, is made up of four sergeants, six senior airmen, and 16 airmen, all belonging to the Special Air Force Infantry Battalion based at Recife Air Base in the northeastern state of Pernambuco. Since the squad was created as Guard Infantry in 1941, and subsequently designated Air Force Infantry, this is the first time it has participated as a unit in a peace mission.
Before coming to Haiti, the squad went through six months of training in tactics, theory and adaptation for the use of FAL 7.62mm rifles and another six months embedded within Brazilian Army troops, part of the 14th Contingent, for a total of one year of preparation.
FAB is in Haiti with its infantry under Supplementary Law 97, updated August 26, 2010, which establishes peace operations as one of the uses of the Brazilian Armed Forces. The missions carried out in these operations, such as checkpoints, static points, foot and vehicle patrols, as well as convoy escorts, are missions that are also part of airbase surface defense operations, one of the specialties of the Air Force Infantry.
Riding in Land Rover Defender vehicles, the members of the FAB unit leave the base in Haiti for another mission in the capital of Port-au-Prince, following a set of daily operational procedures carried out by the unit’s 27 personnel. The moving convoy crosses the main streets near the U.N. installations, including Camp Delta and the Logistics Base, and continues through eight chaotic kilometers until reaching the Saint Louis de Gonzague Internally Displaced Persons (IDP) camp.
The earthquake that devastated the country on January 12, 2010, generated a humanitarian crisis by killing more than 230,000 people and leaving nearly one-third of the country’s population homeless. To alleviate this situation, international humanitarian organizations supported the creation of IDP camps, where entire families are housed in tents. It is in places like these that the presence of the U.N. peacekeeping forces becomes most important in fighting crime by preventing minor offenses, assaults, thefts, rapes and narcotics trafficking.
The visible presence of the troops shows the Haitian population that they have not been abandoned and that the peacekeeping forces are there to guarantee a safe and stable environment, allowing continuity in the task of rebuilding the country and the personal dignity of its people. The Saint Louis de Gonzague IDP camp houses more than 2,700 families and is one of several such camps within the FAB Infantry’s area of operational responsibility that need to be patrolled day and night.
Armed with rifles with rubber bullets and light and sound grenades for riot control, troops enter the IDP camps with caution. The simple presence of the military provides peace of mind to the Haitians, who welcome the troops with friendliness and respect. Operations to distribute food and potable water are constantly under way in these camps.
On an urban patrol, it is impossible to predict what is going to appear 30 meters ahead. On each corner, a different scene emerges: children play, women wash clothes, or people sleep on the ground. For this reason, the military personnel need to be trained and have complete mastery of their weaponry. The lack of safe defensive positions from which to shoot, the tactical disadvantage of troops and the large number of civilians in the area make operations in this kind of environment difficult, tense and exhausting.
The Air Force Infantry patrols more than 18 kilometers each time it leaves the Brazilian base, an exhausting and rewarding task that can be seen in the expression of each member of the unit upon meeting a child, in the feeling of solidarity and friendship that unites the two peoples, and in the pride that each airman takes in displaying the name of the Brazilian Air Force on his uniform, during its first peace mission under the aegis of the United Nations.
Kaiser David Konrad is a Brazilian journalist who specializes in national security issues.
Interview with Infantry Major General Rodolfo Freire de Rezende
Infantry Major General Rodolfo Freire de Rezende is the commander of the Infantry Corps of the Brazilian Air Force, which is contributing to one of the subordinate companies in the Brazilian MINUSTAH contingent. He is responsible for all the operational and logistical planning of the operation.
Kaiser David Konrad: What is the significance of having a Brazilian Air Force unit in Haiti?
Major General Rodolfo Freire de Rezende: The participation of an infantry squad together with the Brazilian contingent has two important aspects for the Brazilian Air Force. The first is the possibility of operating under the aegis of international organizations and in an integrated manner with the forces of the Brazilian Navy and the Brazilian Army, contributing to raising the levels of training, motivation and professionalism of our troops. The second is the opportunity to add to the history of FAB and the feeling of pride of our Military personnel when it is able to assist a sister nation, through the actions of a unit that has been highly trained to act in the context of a territory subjected to subhuman conditions.
Konrad: Will experience in this operation be important for the training of FAB troops?
Maj. Gen. Rodolfo: Certainly. This kind of activity requires constant training in police actions and their use while on patrol, whether on foot or in vehicles. Therefore, the experience obtained in these activities with MINUSTAH will strengthen the capacity of our Military personnel to share new techniques and tactics of deployment observed among the MINUSTAH contingents of other nations.
Konrad: At this stage, is it possible to draw any lessons from this mission?
Maj. Gen. Rodolfo: With the return of the first squad from Haiti, we have already been able to more thoroughly evaluate the benefits derived from training and from the unit’s deployment in a real conflict situation. In preparing for the deployment of another squad sent in August, we have already implemented new tactics for GLO [Guarantee of Law and Order] operations, as Armed Forces operations in urban or public safety actions are called, such as conducting vehicle patrols in urban areas, using nonlethal weapons in conflict situations involving crowds, and also standardizing rules of engagement for our troops and the Haitian population.