In good spirits, N.C. soldiers ready to help Haiti

Posted January 14, 2010 7:52 a.m. EST
Updated October 17, 2011 10:16 a.m. EDT

— Members of the 82nd Airborne Division are ready to aid in the relief efforts in Haiti, where tens of thousands of people are believed to have died in a magnitude 7.0 earthquake Tuesday.

"The people of Haiti right now have got needs, and we're going to go down and do whatever we can to meet those needs," said Lt. Col. Mike Foster, with the 82nd Airborne Division.

Soldiers told WRAL's Bryan Mims on Thursday that they were prepared to be in Haiti anywhere from two weeks to 45 days or even longer, if needed. Mims is traveling with the 82nd Airborne on a cargo plane to the Caribbean nation.

"I have never been to Haiti. I have seen images of the destruction on TV and the Internet. I am a bit anxious to see it up close. (I am) a little apprehensive, a little nervous about what I will see," Mims said Thursday evening.

Accompanying the soldiers are five medics who will support soldiers and, if needed, provide health care to the people of Haiti.

"I'm ready to get over there and do what I can. I want to help as many people as I can," Spec. Jamie Vance said.

Their primary mission will be to distribute supplies gathered by charities and other international groups. Soldiers might also provide security for the main airport in Port-au-Prince and relief workers.

Mims, who has experience doing mission work, said the country’s weak infrastructure will provide a challenge for mission workers hoping to help aid Haiti's recovery.

"I am eager to get on the ground and see what's there and how big the task is," Mims said.

Stay with WRAL.com and WRAL-TV for more updates from WRAL's Bryan Mims.

Two planes carried more than 100 paratroopers to Haiti Thursday, and another 800 will follow Friday. More soldiers could be sent, officials said, depending on how much help is needed.

Foster said his soldiers, ranging from combat veterans to those on their first deployment, are "bracing for the emotional toll of dealing with ... a tragic loss of life and enormous destruction."

"I am sure I'm going to see some things that are very shocking," said Vance, who will be on his first deployment. "(I) just have to keep it together, so we can save lives and help everyone that needs help."

"It's not going to be pretty, but we can handle it," Lt. Evan McGhee said.

The 2nd Marine Expeditionary Unit, based at Camp Lejeune, will sail to Haiti for what is expected to be at least a 30-day deployment. The outfit of 2,200 Marines and sailors is trained to provide disaster relief, including engineering support, medical aid and water purification.

"We're exceptionally capable and flexible of providing a variety of support. As Marines, we are probably best known as warriors, but in this role we are equally good at providing that compassionate response that the people in Haiti need right now," Capt. Clark Carpenter said.

The 2nd MEU recently returned from a seven-month deployment to the U.S. European and Central commands. The unit has been to Haiti at least three times before to provide relief to refugees and storm victims.

About a half-dozen U.S. military ships are headed to the country, including the aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson and the hospital ship USNS Comfort.

The State Department Operations Center has set up the following number for Americans seeking information about family members in Haiti: 1-888-407-4747.