Soldiering Through The Silent Battle

Soldiering Through The Silent Battle

By Dialogo
March 09, 2010



Amidst the mid-day Caribbean heat and with anguished pleas for food, water
and shelter resonating in his ears, U.S. Army Maj. Rob Schultz’s dusty boots tread
the steep roads of Port-au-Prince, Haiti, like they have for the past twenty-some
days.

As Joint Task Force-Haiti Information Operations Chief, he was accustomed to
filtering into the local community, assessing the needs of the Haitian people after
the Jan. 12 earthquake that nearly leveled the already destitute city.

Despite the ascending mercury, the continuous cries and lengthy days, Major
Shultz continued on his mission.

This day, he and his two teammates -- Maj. Dan Castro and Sergeant First
Class Arier Santiago, found themselves assisting at a food distribution point,
helping the Haitian women carry the allotted 55-pound bags of rice. While
interacting with the local populace, he spotted a group of men working in a lot on
the hill above-- a cash-for-work program initiated by USAID. Major Schultz saw this
as an opportunity to observe the effectiveness of the newly established
program.

As he proceeded upward, the sharp, high-pitched clash of shovel and
sledgehammer against stone grew louder. The acrid stench of decomposing flesh and
gangrene lay heavy in the air. Scanning the scene, past the cracked stained glass
and broken remains of the adjacent church, his eyes fell upon a row of small bodies
aligning the rock wall corner. Looking back to the thin, tired Haitian men, and then
again to the tiny body bags, the situation became clear. This was not a
cash-for-work program.

The bodies were children and the men working were trying to bury their
young.

“There had been 100-plus children who perished,” Maj. Schultz said. “Around
the schoolhouse were families, trying to dig out the remains of their children to be
put to rest. At the time I showed up, the fathers had just entered a classroom that
was crushed to the first floor and were removing the remains of seven
children.”

The sights and sounds made for an experience he and this teammate would never
forget.

“We’ve all had our own experiences with death and destruction throughout our
careers, but I know that I have never experienced anything like that before,” said
Sergeant Arier Santiago “The fact that these were children, on top of an already
overwhelming incident, made it even more of a tragedy.”

The soldiers did the only thing they could do: they prayed with the mourning
families. But, along with the crushing and inconsolable sadness felt by those who
have lost a child, a ray of resiliency and hope shown through.

“I spoke with a Haitian grandmother who’d been there every day over the past
month, hoping to find the remains of her three grandchildren,” Maj. Schultz said.
“She took a moment out of her pain and suffering to come over to me, to give a hug
and to thank me -- to thank the United States for being there with her and to say
‘God bless America.’

“There’s just no survey, no inner review, nothing more powerful than those
words to inspire you as to why the United States is here. It’s why we’re doing what
we’re doing here and why we need to continue this effort.”

And in a way only a dedicated soldier can, Major Schultz continued to do what
he needed to do as a military leader --following the widely-held Army credo-- he put
the mission first and people always.

“I’ve got four combat tours -- two in Iraq, two in Afghanistan,” said Major
Schultz. “I’ve seen more suffering and destruction here in Haiti than in all four
combat tours combined. But, what I’ve also seen is an incredibly durable people in
Haitians. Knowing this, seeing this, we’ll continue with the task at hand. We’ll
help to reinstate the hope, faith and the solidarity that makes Haitians such proud
people and makes Haiti such a resilient nation.”
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