N.C. troops 'centerpiece' of Haiti relief

Posted January 18, 2010 5:52 a.m. EST
Updated January 18, 2010 10:20 a.m. EST

— Thousands of Camp Lejeune-based Marines are expected to arrive off the shore of Haiti's devastated capital city Monday.

They will join 1,000 82nd Airborne Division paratroopers whose commanding general describes them as the "centerpiece" of the relief effort after last Tuesday's earthquake that is estimated to have killed more than 100,000 people.

"This mission could not happen without the 82nd Airborne," said said Army Lt. Gen. P.K. "Ken" Keen, commander of the Haiti mission. "It's absolutely critical. They're the centerpiece of what we're doing right now."

The 82nd is running one of four supply distribution points on a hillside overlooking Port-au-Prince. About 50,000 people have created what has come to be called a "survivor's camp" on that hillside in order to be close at hand for the daily distribution of food and water.

Nearby is the 82nd's forward operating base at Petionville Club. The damaged country club has Haiti's only golf course.

Paratroopers have also started going into hard-hit areas of the capital city and handing out rations to homeless residents, many of whom are camping out in the open streets. On a convoy Monday morning, well-behaved crowds received all the food and water the soldiers had in a half-hour.

The nearly 1,000 paratroopers will soon be joined by the 82nd's entire 2nd Brigade, bringing their numbers to 3,500, Keen said.

The 82nd Airborne's commanding general praised the support from Pope Air Force personnel Base and Fort Bragg's civilian staff, transporting soldiers, supplies and aid.

"Our paratroopers and soldiers are the greatest the world has ever known. But it also important to acknowledge that it is not just the soldiers that make this post work and that make this operation happen," Lt. Gen. Frank G. Helmick said in a statement.

"We are blessed by a tremendous civilian staff in both the Garrison Command and the Mission Support Element, which augment the military.

"Our Air Force brothers at Pope are remarkable, and we could not do this without them," he continued. "While we wear different uniforms, we are one team."

The Camp Lejeune-based 2nd Marine Expeditionary Unit arriving in Haiti Monday on a U.S. naval ship is expected to stay for at least 30 days. The outfit of 2,200 Marines and sailors will reinforce 1,000 Marines already on the ground.

The 2nd MEU is trained to provide disaster relief, including engineering support and medical aid. It is bringing trucks, earth-moving equipment and water-purification systems.

The unit has been to Haiti at least three times before to provide relief to refugees and storm victims.

In other U.S. military efforts, the U.S. Coast Guard ship Oak arrived Sunday and will use heavy cranes and other equipment to fix Port-au-Prince's harbor. Earthquake damage made the port inoperable, making the country's single-runway airport the only access point for incoming aid.

Additionally, 7,000 United Nations peacekeepers and 2,100 international police offers are on the ground in Haiti as part of a peacekeeping mission that pre-dates the earthquake.

U.N. peacekeeping chief Alain Le Roy said Monday that he plans to ask the Security Council to temporarily increase the U.N.'s force.