Thursday, January 14, 2010

Military 'Working Feverishly' to Help Haiti, Commander Says

By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Jan. 14, 2010 - With Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates' committing all available military resources to the Haiti relief effort, U.S. Southern Command is "working feverishly and aggressively " to get them there as quickly as possible, its commander said today.

"We are making use of every asset we have," Air Force Gen. Douglas Fraser told reporters at his Miami headquarters. "And our focus remains very definitely on making sure we get relief to Haiti as absolutely soon as we can get it there."

The U.S. military has 329 troops on the ground in Haiti, and that number is expected to increase to more than 750 by tomorrow, and almost 1,000 by the week's end, Fraser reported.

That's in addition to more than 2,000 Marines, slated to arrive aboard three ships of an amphibious readiness group, along with heavy-lift helicopters, Jan. 19. The Marines are assigned to the 22nd Marine Expeditionary Unit at Camp Lejeune, N.C.

An initial company of about 100 82nd Airborne paratroopers, assigned to Bravo Company, 1st Battalion, 73rd Infantry, at Fort Bragg, N.C., arrived in Haiti today, Fraser said.

They'll be followed tomorrow by a command and control element from the division's 2nd Brigade Combat Team and additional 2nd BCT paratroopers. Over the next four days, about 700 additional soldiers will deploy to support relief efforts, he said.

Meanwhile, the USS Carl Vinson, an aircraft carrier home-ported in Norfolk, Va., is slated to arrive in Haiti tomorrow, carrying 19 helicopters and 30 pallets of relief goods, Fraser said. The Vinson will provide a critical platform for support for the heavily damaged island, he said.

And the hospital ship USNS Comfort is being readied in Baltimore, expected to get underway Jan. 16 and arrive in Haiti Jan. 21. Once on station, its crew will be able to provide medical care for up to 1,000 patients in 12 operating rooms.

The Coast Guard, which maintains a regular presence in the region, has four major cutters – 210 feet and larger and equipped with helicopter decks – to provide lift capability and security, Coast Guard 7th District Commander Rear Adm. Steve Branham reported.

Two additional Coast Guard cutters are on the way to Haiti, he said, as well as a buoy tender vessel that will provide heavy-lift capability to support the effort.

Coast Guard fixed- and rotary-wing aircraft also are on site, providing airlift to move supplies into Haiti and to medevac critically injured patients, Branham said.

Air Force Lt. Gen. Ken Keene, Southcom's deputy commander, is on the ground in Haiti, commanding the joint task force.

Its initial focus is on rallying all military resources, in cooperation with the U.S. Agency for International Development and State Department Office of Foreign Disaster Assistance, to get desperately needed aid into Haiti.

That, Fraser said, involves restoring full use of the Port-au-Prince airport, and getting heavy
equipment and relief supplies ashore despite heavily damaged port facilities.

"We continue to work very aggressively on getting capability from the maritime environment ashore," he said. "Getting relief in there is key... So the Haitians understand we are really focused on mitigating their tragedy."

Supporting that effort has been a joint effort, with every service playing an important role, working together to overcome obstacles and support the mission, Fraser said.

Military people are accustomed to challenges, seeing them as "opportunities," he told reporters. "We are taking that opportunity, as military men and women like to do," he said.

"And we are working it at deliberate speed to get all possible capability there as soon as we possibly can," he said. "The entire effort of the Department of Defense is focused on supporting this effort."

Related Sites: U.S. Southern Command Special Report: Haiti Earthquake Relief

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