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Thursday, February 25, 2010

Update 3 from Travis

Here is the newest update from Travis.


Vacation Tip #1: Don't hold your breath to avoid the smell in Haiti. If you hold your breath, you eventually have to breathe in deep, and you've just defeated the purpose of holding your breath. Take small sips of air.


We went to an orphanage on Monday (Wow, is it Thurday already?). They are living under a bunch of tarps, sleeping on the ground. We helped clean up a bunch of rubble and played with the kids. I kicked around an entirely flat soccer ball for about half an hour. The kids play rough with each other, but help each other up off the ground and dust each other off. Then immediately tackle them to the ground for the ball. We made a tire swing for them, held the little ones, threw a football with the older ones, pushed them on a swing and played dominoes with a mixed set (try to win with that!).

The kids all wanted to help clean up, as you can see in the pictures. They shoveled rocks, ran wheelbarrows full of dirt and bricks, and carried cinder blocks on their heads. At 8-10 years old. Tell your kids to stop complaining about taking out the trash. Or have them carry it on their head. The older kids helped too, pushing over cracked walls and moving rubble. One guy, about 17, was wearing woman's shoes, flats, I think (they were dressy, with straps, but no high heels...), but his entire heel was off the back. His toes didn't even fit all the way through the strap part. It was all he had to wear. He pushed a wheelbarrow over uneven and rocky ground for over an hour before he cut his foot on some rebar and we noticed. Maybe I'll give him my shower shoes or running shoes or something. We had some clothes that were donated, so we gave them those as well. I'm working on getting them some tents. The orphanage is out in the country to the north of the city. It's not as bad up there as in the slums here in PaP. Still poor, but there are trees and grass and it doesn't smell so bad.

I've been working on providing all the basic life support (port-o-potties, trash, food, bottled water, bulk water, fuel, light sets...) for about 350-450 people in the SPOD (Seaport of Departure), here at the international port in Port au Prince (PaP). We got showers set up last night which is heated and has a pump, which is semi-normal, and should have our first hot meal (by that I mean a pan in hot water, served cafeteria style) tonight for dinner. Albeit, it's still a shelf-stable meal, so MRE in a pan you eat on a plate, but at least it's mentally different. One of my main units, the Coast Guard PSU307, is leaving today. About 120 folks. A good bunch of folks. Sad to see them go... and drink a beer without me.

Almost the end of February, eh? It's hard to grasp with it being so darn hot. It'll be a shock to the system to go back to Virginia. With a bad farmer's/sunglasses tan.

-Travis


Cleaning up at an orphanage


Cute little kids at the orphanage.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Update 2 from Travis

Here is a new update from Travis.

As you look around Haiti, everyone is dirty. Showers are a rare luxery. Dirty faces and hands are constant. Mostly a bucket and bar of soap suffice, if the water can be found. The dust and dirt stick to everything, and the smell of burning trash and rotten cabbage seep into all clothing. Laundry hangs on makeshift lines everywhere, not really clean, but at least the dirty water used seems to wash off some grime.

The food given out is standard military issue MRE. After 30 days, even the most hungry debate rather whether or not it is really worth it. Any chance of real food is paramount to a homeless person at a buffet. Food is piled on top of food. Leftovers are taken back to the makeshift tents to share. Bread heels and old fruit are eaten with genuine gratitude. A simple piece of candy or a bag of chips is a delicacy and can be traded like gold.

During the hottest part of the day, you can see people lying in whatever shade they can find. Tarps, tents, sheets, plywood. Whatever can be used to block the sun and eventually the rain is fashioned into makeshift shelter. Early on, everyone slept on the ground. No tents, no cover. Now, the lucky ones have a cot and something over their heads. There is no A/C. They sleep in warehouses, fields, parks... anywhere there is room and they are allowed to temporarily live. The mosquitoes and general vermin are abundant and hungry, and take advantage of the austere conditions to get fat on the mass of people outside. The days are long and hot. The clouds bring relief but also rain. What little shelter is available has holes and water washes underneath. Materials to build flooring are in short supply. Few stores are available to purchase items, if the money was even available to do so. Despite the difficulties, all around is ingenuity. Makeshift showers,vehicles held together by scavenging parts from other broken vehicles, buildings of pallets and a few nails. No one can say the people here are not hard workers and creative.

Information flow is sketchy at best, and almost everyone learns of distribution points and movements of humanitarian aid by word of mouth. The political climate guides all decisions locally.

Everyone is tired and antsy. They will make due with what little they have until Haiti has her feet under her, but regardless, they want to get on with their lives, to be with their families, to just go back to their homes.

And that's just the Soldiers.

There is a continual improvement here. We have tents, cots, and mosquito nets and we built floors. The tents have holes, but tape and eventually some sort of makeshift sealant will cover those. We received supplements (which is basically shelf milk, some different MREs, some individual cereals, and some self heating coffee) yesterday, which is a moral boost to everyone. One good thing about OIF and OEF; we now how to get small luxeries or make them ourselves. even if we aren't using battle tactics here, we certainly apply field knowledge gained throughout the last several years.

We have stopped the mass rice distribution. We will continue to provide humanitarian aid, but just not at the level we were for those two weeks. We may move onto building supplies or something. The rain cometh, and when it comes, it comes heavy and constant. That will make things interesting and miserable. Miserable-er.

I've officially hit my 30 days in country. Seems like six months. I'm not complaining per se. It's nice to be a part of something different than the normal deployment.

Enjoy your cold. I'll trade you 20 degrees if you want.

-Travis


P.S.
The Marines are crazy! Don't get me wrong, I love the Marines and have never had an issue with them, but man, I don't understand them sometimes. There are about 20 Marines at the Embassy, providing security. Initially they were sleeping on the ground, just like everyone else. I was there for one day and managed to get a cot. Two weeks later, they managed to get an overhead tent to block the sun, but were all packed into one tent, inches apart, still sleeping on the ground. I has managed to find a pillow, sheet, and a mattress within a week. There are 3-4 disaster relief agencies right next to them, with all the above. I went back a couple days ago, and they are still sleeping on the grounds. Now, I refuse to believe that they do not WANT at least cots. The do not NEED cots; but neither do I. However, I think that it is a disservice to my Soldiers to not try and get them every comfort possible. Twenty people should be no problem if you talk to the right people. Again, this is nothing against the Marines. You can insert "Army" and I would say the same thing. You could insert "Air Force" and I would know you were lying. Air Force does not sleep on the ground.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Valentine's Day


Valentine's Day is upon us. The day of love! The day you are suppose to show your significant other how much you care about them. Some people say it is just a Hallmark holiday but why not make the most of it if you can?! Travis and I are separated yet again this Valentine's day. Something that we are used to. We got to spend last year together but the year before he was in Iraq and the year before that he was finishing up his Officer's school. I suspect, there will be many more Valentine's day that we will not be together as well. But, even though we are apart, Travis was still just as sweet and sent me a beautiful flower arrangement. I couldn't do so much. I tried to slip him a card in some things that were being sent down to him, hoping that it was to get to him in time. Well, he thought it would as well but come to find out now it will be getting to him late as it was not placed on the boat that he thought it was going too. All well. He will get at some point. But here are some pictures of my flowers. I wish he could be here with me to celebrate but he'll be home in time.




So go grab your loved one, tell them you love them and enjoy each others company on this day because you never know when you won't be able to spend it together.

Happy Valentine's Day!

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Haiti Update: From Travis

I received this email from Travis to pass out to people so I thought it would be a good idea to post it on our blog for everyone to read. I will also attach the pictures he sent but they are pretty small so hope you can tell what they are.


Alright, to begin....

Martin Luther King Jr. holiday weekend disappeared and four of us (Battalion Commander, harbormaster, a Sergeant, and me) drive to Ft. Bragg, NC to jump on a bird headed to the Caribbean for a beach vacation. Mission unknown. General idea: humanitarian aid. Actual nuts and bolts of what we are going to do in Haiti? Hopefully they tell us when we get there. We get on a C17. We try to sleep in the tiny troop seats and on the freezing cold floor. We fly over the beautiful islands and land in a 3rd world dump. Literally the poorest country in the Northern Hemisphere. The Hatians meet us at the airport, give us cocktails and flowers and backrubs. We drive to the 5-star hotel and discuss the needs of the people over bacon-wrapped T-Bone steak, then move to the hot tub to discuss our exit strategy. I'm kidding, of course. There is no exit strategy. And it was only sirloin steak.

The air force was here for about a week running the airport, and the 82nd Airborne had come in and helped secure the city (Port-au-Prince), which more or less meant detering the looting of food warehouses. There happens to be food warehouses here because the UN, World Health Organization, World Food Program, USAID, Gospel Mothers of the 3rd Reich for the Betterment of Livestock Development and Racing (or GM3RBLDR, for short), among others, have been here for years. They have been feeding the thousands and thousands of super poor here. The earthquake knocked down buildings and drove a lot of people to the street, for sure, but there was a lot of people living in the street before. The shack cities seemed to survive just fine (or were just easily rebuilt). If anything, the earthquake flooded more support (*cough* American $$) than ever before. Yeah for more welfare!

The Sergeant and harbormaster immediately go to the port, sleep on the ground, and start the actual task of getting boats to shore to offload cargo (humanitarian aid or HA). The Battalion Commander (BC) and I go to the US Embassy. We rode a blackhawk helicopter there, jammed in like sardines...enough that one of the crew had to strap in and leave the door open, but it is always awesome riding in a helicopter. Always. The embassy is jammed full of military, Non-Government Organizations (NGOs), Government Organizations (FEMA), and some embassy workers. People slept in cubicles or outside or in hallways. I managed to talk my way into two cots from FEMA and found a computer server closet, which, A) was super air conditioned and B) dark. That was home sweet home for about a week. I managed to snag some single matresses and some pillows from a company doing disaster relief resource as well. Not bad livin'. If you don't hang around me much, I'm a doer. I don't like to sit around and discuss things for too long without actually just making a decision and going with it. Give me a couple of options and let's get to work to make it happen. That is not how the upper levels of the military (joint effort, no less) work. It is much preferred to pick six different courses of action, have 25 people do the same task, then talk about the different results and try again. Without actually doing anything. The meetings were three 1-star generals, 6-8 full bird colonels, 15-20 lieutenant colonels, some majors, oh, and a 1st lieutenant (me, if you didn't know). The talking was so far above my level of knowledge (or care) that I wanted to just bang my head against a wall or simply raise my hand, tell the group the group to stop the talking and start the doing (and end my career).

We did eventally leave. With applicable results? Ask me when I get back. Since we had no vehicles, we had a normal SUV with a local driver that took us to the airport or seaport or just on a sightseeing tour. We went to a distribution point and camp where our driver's family was staying and actually got to meet his family. Really nice folks. The people here A) hate the Haiti government, B) hate the UN, C) hate the French, and D) love Americans. We hear and see "America forever" often, but I imagine this is only because we are the new kids in town with food, they think we are handing out bags of money, and if the US annexed Haiti they would have it better than they do now. I don't think the US is into the adopting of countries, especially those without oil reserves, so I anticipate all the love quickly draining to the "gimmies," which have already started from some of the brat kids, to the "go aways". Which I will gladly do. For the time being though, the people here are genuinely nice. They have a tough life. Only pictures can give a glimpse, but you would have to see it to believe it. Rivers of trash. Makeshift shacks. Cutting a railroad tie with a handsaw...long ways. People here carry everything on their heads. Baskets of oranges, five gallon buckets of water, 50lb bags of rice, all manner of fruit/vegetable/small child...great posture though! Even super old ladies lug the heavy stuff on their head. One older lady managed, with a 5 gallon bucket on her head, to squat down, take a crap on the road, stand back up, put a ladle in the bucket, pull out some water to put in a pan she had in her hand, and not spill a drop. People pay to see that stuff in Vegas. Maybe not the crap part...

There is an inexplicable number of cows, goats, sheep, chickens, and pigs here. In the city. All over the streets. A few dogs, one cat, rats, lizards...but livestock all over the place. Roaming free. How hungry are you for real? Apparently the owner knows what is his and if someone kills it, they could themselves be killed. And they eat trash and wallow in the trash rivers of nastiness. I don't know if I'd eat them either.

But I digress. Back to the port. The earthquake took it's toll here. The entire north pier, where all load on/load off container handling equipment is located, sank into the ocean. A piece of the south pier collapsed into the water, and the rest of the pier supports are almost non-existant. Some don't even touch the bottom of the pier.

Fun fact: Fort Eustis never gets significant snow. I leave and they get a bunch. It's 94 with 75% humidity here. In February. June will be mild, I'm sure.


Travis is front of the boats at the port.


Lines of people


Giant crack in the concrete in the cargo area