Hours of Greatest Need
Por Dialogo abril 01, 2010
About 35 seconds. A very short amount of time for so much death and
destruction to take place.
Lt. Gen. Ken Keen, military Deputy Commander of U.S. Southern Command, was at
the U.S. Embassy in Port-au-Prince preparing for a reception in his honor when the
tremors began late in the afternoon. He quickly understood the gravity of the
situation, but it was only the next morning, when he got a full view of the
destruction, that it became clear just how much damage was caused by the magnitude
In slightly a few seconds longer than it takes to read the previous
paragraph, buildings lay in ruins, thousands of lives were lost and the city was
covered in dust from the rubble. In 35 seconds, the worst natural disaster in the
Western Hemisphere’s history had occurred.
U.S. President Barack Obama immediately took action and voiced support for
Haiti: “You will not be forsaken. You will not be forgotten,” he said. “In this,
your hour of greatest need, America stands with you.”
The U.S. Southern Command was the focal point of the U.S. military effort to
deliver aid to the Haitian people. SOUTHCOM quickly dubbed its mission Operation
United Response. A Joint Task Force in Haiti was set up with Lt. Gen. Keen as the
Commander, while Gen. Douglas Fraser, Commander of U.S. Southern Command, reiterated
the commitment to save lives. “We are working feverishly and aggressively to provide
life-sustaining capabilities in Haiti. Our hearts go out to the Haitian people and
we are making use of every asset we have at the Department of Defense to ensure that
relief gets to them as soon as possible,” Gen. Fraser said.
Two of the immediate responses provided by U.S. forces were repairing the
airports and seaports, which were seriously damaged. The U.S. Air Force quickly
cleared the debris, set up a mobile air traffic control tower and opened the runways
at Toussaint L’Ouverture International Airport to make way for the thousands of
relief flights loaded with supplies and personnel that rushed in from around the
world. By February 19, 2010, a little more than five weeks after the quake, the
first commercial flight was able to land in Port-au-Prince, signaling that the
airport was open for business again.
Meanwhile, U.S. Navy underwater dive teams repaired damaged port structures
so that ships could eventually dock to unload relief supplies. U.S. forces also
delivered aid, provided shelter, established relief camps and conducted debris
U.S. military personnel also conducted critical missions at food and shelter
distribution sites, while working with MINUSTAH forces and more than 800
nongovernmental agencies involved in the relief effort.
The United States, through the U.S. Agency for International Development,
spared no expense with relief efforts. Food, money, clothing and supplies were flown
in constantly. U.S. military forces also distributed more than 73,300 hand-held
radios as part of an overall effort to reach the people of Haiti via FM/AM
broadcasting of the Voice of America programming and public service announcements.
Ground loudspeaker teams provided critical information at food distribution points.
The broadcasts provided the Haitian population vital information on aid efforts and
the location of food and water distribution points.
Medical teams, in conjunction with the hospital ship USNS Comfort, treated
hundreds of injured Haitians daily as part of the concerted, international effort to
save lives and alleviate pain and suffering.
The Comfort’s hospital capabilities include fully equipped operating rooms,
state-of-the-art medical equipment and close to 1,000 beds. U.S. forces also helped
distribute medical aid to various points and worked with local officials to
rehabilitate the Haitian public health system. More than 1,400 U.S. Navy medical
professionals and support personnel came together with civil mariners and
nongovernmental volunteers to provide critical support to the multinational effort
“The Americans are here at our request and are here to assist us in our
humanitarian and security needs,” Haitian Prime Minister Jean-Max Bellerive said to
French radio station RTL. Haitian President René Préval echoed Bellerive’s
statements, indicating that all U.S. forces currently in the country were there with
One month after the earthquake struck, U.S. service members paused to
remember one of their own who had perished in the disaster. Air Force Lt. Col. Ken
Bourland, the Caribbean desk officer for U.S. Southern Command, was visiting Haiti
for an official meeting with Haitian defense counterparts. Lt. Col. Bourland was in
his room at the Hotel Montana when the earthquake struck. After more than three
weeks of search and rescue efforts, his remains were found at the hotel.
Lt. Gen. Keen, who presided over the memorial service, told service members
to complete the mission that brought Bourland there and to dedicate every day to
helping the people of Haiti. “We look at the children here and we see their smiles,
even though they have no food, no water and no roof over their heads, but somehow
they find it within themselves to smile at us and say, ‘Thank you.’ We see it in the
women who come through the distribution lines, as our paratroopers, Marines and
Airmen lift what to some would be the weight of the world — 100 pounds of rice on
their shoulders — they smile and say, ‘Thank you.’”
“I ask every single one of us to dedicate ourselves as we go about our duties
here,” Lt. Gen. Keen said, “and remember those who have served and keep in mind the
price that some have paid.”