In Haiti, 82nd Airborne struggles to cope with survivors' needs

Soldiers of the 82nd Airborne Division have distributed about 150,000 bottles of water and nearly 100,000 packaged meals in Haiti so far. But much more is needed for the earthquake's survivors.

Tomas Bravo/Reuters
US soldiers take cover as a helicopter from the 82nd Airborne arrives to give supplies to the Victims of Haiti's earthquake at makeshift refugee camp in Port-au-Prince Thursday.

The US Army ground units arriving here to aid Haitians devastated by last week's earthquake are finding the need knows no bounds.

Some Haitians want jobs, others homes, and all want food and water. Captain Sean Shields, a company commander with the Second Brigade of the 82nd Airborne division at Fort Bragg, listened to all the requests as he toured his new "area of responsibility" near the airport here Thursday.

"We're going to do the best we can," he said as he surveyed a shantytown composed of homes made of bed clothes – the new home to 1,200 people. But Shields, a veteran of both hurricane Katrina and the Afghanistan war, knows it will be hard to give everyone everything they need.

On Thursday, the captain visited a soccer field where about 200 people are living. He and his company staff dribbled a soccer ball with some teenagers as they attempted to glean what the neighborhood needed. One young man says there is no economic opportunity, no food, and no water. The soldiers get back into their white SUV – one of the only vehicles the company has at their disposal – promising to return with relief supplies and a new soccer ball.

The 82nd is expected to stay here for at least 90 days, according to one military official, before handing off to another unit that can stay for the longer-term mission.

"It's challenging and I think its going to take some time, said Lt. Col. Keith Pellegrini, commander of the Brigade Special Troops Battalion of the 82nd Airborne Division’s 2nd Brigade Combat Team. "We will be here until the job is done, whatever that is determined to be."

In the last two days, the battalion has delivered about 150,000 bottle of water and nearly 100,000 packaged meals.

Remnants of the disaster are everywhere. Abandoned notebooks, school bags, and dozens of pairs of shoes were strewn about a two-story school. The shoes were removed from the remains of students found inside.

At yet another shanty atop a hill overlooking this shattered city, Shields made more promises but was careful not to promise more than he can deliver. "I'm trusting you," one man tells him. "God bless you," says another.


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