Patiently, US soldiers struggle to help Haiti rebuild
As US troops arrive in Haiti, they are feeling overwhelmed by the sense of need. But they are also gaining experience and learning how to manage the situation.
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An attempt at relief
It is into this kind of chaos that the Green Falcons have now been called upon to operate. They are assigned to a neighborhood in Port-au-Prince near the airport that isn’t the site of the worst devastation but has plenty of challenges.
On Friday, about 20 soldiers arrived in their only real vehicle, a big green dump truck filled with rations of packaged meals and water for about 800 people. They arrived early in the hope that they could attract little attention but distribute the relief efficiently.
The start was orderly, with Haitian men attempting to organize the crowd, putting children up front to get relief supplies first. But the truck was soon mobbed. Old women were pressed against young children, men screamed in Creole, and the crowd surged.
The spectacle attracted more people, and the field, which the day before was estimated to be the home for about 200 people, soon swelled to as many as 1,000.
“Get back, get back,” members of the Green Falcons warned the crowd, most of whom didn’t speak English. But it was of no use. The group of Haitians,
unable to push back because of the crowd behind them, got ever closer, the line broke down, and a few Haitians even jumped on the side of the
The soldiers, who by military doctrine carry weapons – though in a less-threatening “sling position” at their side – had to exhibit forbearance, handing out aid but nervous that a small riot was not out of the question.
Soon, Capt. Sean Shields, the company commander in charge of the operation, had to call it quits. One woman yelled in Creole-accented English, “it’s not fair” as the truck pushed through the crowd, and some of the soldiers left, angry that their first mission to help people clearly in need hadn’t gone better.
At a meeting afterward at their makeshift camp in an abandoned industrial park near the airport, the men expressed their frustration but vowed to do better the next time.
Shields, a veteran of the war in Afghanistan, as well as the relief effort after hurricane Katrina, says next time they will bring more men to create a security barrier and maintain order, perhaps setting up several lines with rope or tape. They may even consider doing stealthy night drops in which they leave food and water supplies in needy neighborhoods and quickly leave before a crowd forms. And Shields will also hire a translator and attempt to bring other neighborhood leaders together to help do the next drop.
“I would like to empower the Haitians to provide the humanitarian assistance, and we’ll just be there to facilitate,” Shields says.
For now, they’ll do the best they can. Farnsworth said the next time will be better. “But for the first day, I’ll take it.”
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