By Tech. Sgt. Phyllis Hanson, Air Force Public Affairs Agency
Providing medical care and delivering water and food supplies are top essentials in supporting Operation Unified Response in Haiti for now, but more tasks are to come in the near future.
“No one’s kidding themselves,” there are enormous tasks in front of us, in bringing stability to Haiti, said Lt. Gen. P. K. (Ken) Keen who discussed these top priorities during an interview Jan. 18, on DoD Live Bloggers Roundtable.
“We’re going to do our very best to help the Haitian people with what they need as fast as we can. It’s taking our entire military to do this, and we’re building up each day,” said General Keen who is the Joint Task Force Commander Haiti as well as the U.S. Southern Command deputy commander.
With 1,400 U.S. servicemembers on the ground, and nearly 5,000 afloat, those numbers will grow in coming days to about 5,000 on the ground and another 5,000 off shore supporting Haiti needs. The goal is to leave the lightest “footprint” by not sending in too many people for they will consume what other wise could be pushed out to the population, he said. There has to be a balance in order do to accomplish our mission.
The Port-au-Prince International Airport is hopping with 24-hour operations, averaging 180 round-the-clock flights per day. To maximize movement, the Air Force is alloting planes 2 hours each to get in and get out whether it be to deliver supplies or to pick up evacuees. Mind you, this is includes the Air Force’s big birds such as the C-17 Globemaster III and the C-130 Hercules on a 10,000-foot runway which normally only handles about 13 flights a day.
While Air Force personnel are essentially running airport operations, the Haitian government determines the priorities and the order in which planes are scheduled depending on the needs at any given time. Timeliness is crucial in meeting those top needs — especially delivering medical supplies.
“We’re doing the best we can, but have more to do,” said General Keen. “It is absolutely critical to get the ports open,” he said. And while Haiti seaports are damaged, more U.S. Naval and Marine support are arriving , to meet crucial demands such as more hospitals.
The U.S. is an enduring partner and will remain committed to providing support to the Haitians to ensure they are able to recover from this devastating disaster. If you’re interested in helping Haiti with urgent and long-term needs, go to the Clinton Bush Haiti Fund website or any number of trusted aid relief organizations such as the American Red Cross.
SOUTHCOM, who has led U.S. military support to 14 major relief missions, including assistance to Haiti in September 2008, is working closely with United Nations Stabilization Mission, or MINUSTAH, and local officials. For more information about the Air Force’s participation in the Haiti Earthquake relief effort, visit http://www.af.mil/humanitarianrelieftohaiti/index.asp. For a compilation of official U.S. Government Twitter accounts following Haiti relief, click here.