Operations here in Haiti have gotten into a pretty good rhythm and most days seem like the Bill Murray movie Groundhog Day.
We are providing a 24-7 mission watch, forecasting and observing for all military operations around the Port-Au-Prince airport. Not only are we supporting the 24th Air Expeditionary Group (AEG), but we are also supporting multiple U.S. Army units, and the the Canadians, Australians, and French. We have also offered assistance to the Haitian branch of the National Weather Service as well.
Our Base Weather station is a humble corner of a tent consisting of a table, three computers, resource and reference materials, tactical weather equipment, a phone line, and other pieces of weather equipment to include a Magic Eight-ball.
We actually had the opportunity to observe a record rainfall event for the month of February when we recorded 2.25 inches of rain in less than 3 hours. Needless to say our tent city almost floated away, but the weather team diligently issued a heavy rain warning before bailing almost a foot and a half of water out of the tent!
The air traffic here at the airport has begun to decline now that the Port has reopened and humanitarian aid is now arriving by ship. That said, we have still supported over 7,500 flights and the movement of over 15,000 tons of cargo.
It has been interesting to see the different aircraft from all over the world and the aid that has flowed from donor counties. We’ve had aircraft from Argentina, Columbia, China, Canada, the U.S., France, Brazil, Peru, Mexico, Jamaica, and many more including Chile. Chile was a huge donor country before they suffered their most recent earthquake and my thoughts go out to them as they deal with their own tragedy.
I’m proud of our Battlefield Weather Team not only because they have done a great job doing their job, but they have also volunteered during the hours when they aren’t on shift forecasting the weather.
We have all gone to the Hotel Montana at least twice to assist in recover efforts there. All of us have also volunteered our time and energy at the University of Miami Hospital, where many of the earthquake victims are still receiving care.
Lt. Gibson and Staff Sgt. Jenkins are Rock Stars! They have visited not only the University of Miami Hospital, but also several orphanages nearby. They have also donated supplies, soccer gear, and candy to the less fortunate children. I think they both failed “Balloon Animals 101”, but the kids don’t seem to care and they are helping bring some cheer to the children’s day. Tech. Sgt. Fischer has been pretty active in all phases of the recovery effort here and has worked hard with other teams.
We now have two shower tents that allow for separate and equitable male and female facilities. We got more washers and dryers and Port-o-Johns, but still have about the same number of sleeping tents as when we first arrived.
The sleeping situation hasn’t gotten any better. In fact, it’s gotten a little worse. More personnel keep arriving, but since we don’t have more tents to put them in, we keep getting more and more people trying to utilize the same space. The tents that we are using for lodging can comfortably accommodate about 12 individuals, but there are anywhere from 14-18 people in each one. This means you have to crawl over your gear to get into your cot. I guess I should be glad to have a place to sleep.
Air Force Instruction (AFI) authorizes these two individuals working at the Embassy, but they are staying in our tent city. Since they have a tent all to themselves, they kicked everyone else out making them move into already overcrowded tents.
Services and Civil Engineering has done an amazing job of setting up our tent city and taking care of us. Our services detachment has set up a field kitchen and they are now serving two hot meals a day. Now don’t get too excited about that until I explain what it entails. The food is shipped to Haiti already prepared in large bags and the cooks cut open the bags and pour it into a large container to be reheated before serving. I’m not saying that it tastes bad, and our Services folks do a great job with what they have, but I usually skip those meals and I am still eating about one to two MREs (Meal Ready to Eat) a day.
You’d think that I would lose weight with that type of eating habit, but our MREs are pretty heavy in carbohydrates. I don’t need to lose much weight, but I’ve discovered that it’s not as easy if your diet isn’t what it should be. We’re now getting a regular supply of apples and oranges so I’m not as worried about coming down with scurvy or rickets as I was before.
That brings me to the interesting topic of physical fitness. Most of us are running to try to stay in shape and our designated running path is along a dirt road with ruts and tons of ankle twisting rocks that curves around the perimeter of the airport. There’s a long cinderblock wall that runs along the perimeter and is in pretty good shape until you get about a mile from our camp where the earthquake and disrepair have turned sections of the wall into rubble.
When we first got here there would be children sitting on the wall and they would wave at us as we went by. Then they got a little bolder and started to cross a drainage ditch to come say hello to us and ask for food and water. There are multiple food and water distributions center around the airport and most of us don’t go running with food and water so we couldn’t give them anything even if we wanted to.
It didn’t take long before the kids weren’t asking for food and water, but were instead demanding that you give them things. I was pretty taken aback when I had an 8 year old boy run up to me and in the deepest most intimidation voice he could muster demand, “GIVE ME YOUR WATCH”. I’m pretty good at ignoring that type of behavior so needless to say I still have my watch even after being told to give it up every time I’ve run the last two weeks.
Now the problem has escalated to children throwing rocks at us if we don’t give them something. I have had rocks thrown at me twice, but I convince myself that it was just to get my attention. I don’t take it personally and don’t hold it against the children because these particular kids don’t seem to have good parental supervision anyway. Most Haitians are still very happy to have us here and are very appreciative of the help that we are providing.
KENNETH P CAMPBELL, MSgt, USAF NCOIC Battlefield Weather Team 24 AEG, Port-au-Prince, Haiti "Strength and Honor"