07 February 2010

Haiti Trip

Team, I returned Thursday evening from a visit to our ships operating off Haiti in support of Operation Unified Response and to the Forward Logistics Hub we established at our base in Guantanamo Bay. It's been 25 days since the earthquake struck, and 24 1/2 days since the Navy began responding to the disaster.

What our Sailors have accomplished during that period of time is simply remarkable and fills me with great pride. The Navy responded rapidly and well, putting together a strong team under RADM Vic Guillory, our 4th Fleet Commander, who leads the Navy relief efforts in the Southern Command region as part of Joint Task Force-Haiti.

The role of the USNS COMFORT is well known, but what is not so well known is that Navy Doctors, Nurses, Corpsmen and support personnel from over 100 separate commands came together in just 2 weeks to bring that hospital ship to life and deliver a well-organized, well-led and supremely competent medical team to the relief effort.

I was able to get through quite a few of the wards onboard COMFORT and see some of the seriously injured Haitians whose lives were saved by our medical teams. Of note, many of the linguists who were translating for the Haitian patients and their family members were Red Cross volunteers who were doing 30 day stints helping out onboard - these Red Cross volunteers were simply invaluable. I also met with volunteers from Project Hope and other non-governmental organizations who were aboard providing a wide-array of very important medical services. All in all, a very moving experience to see our Navy medical teams, the various volunteer organizations and the mariners of the Military Sealift Command working together to make such a profound difference for so many seriously injured Haitians. Here is a story that is typical of what our Sailors aboard COMFORT are doing in Haiti - "Comfort Corpsmen Give Infant Another Shot at Life."

USS BATAAN (LHD 5) is the amphibious "big deck" in the Haitian relief operation and the Flagship of the BATAAN Amphibious Ready Group (ARG). She had returned from a regular, 6 month deployment to Central Command on 5 December and was in the middle of her refit when she got the word to get underway as soon as possible, along with the USS FT McHENRY (LSD 43) and USS CARTER HALL (LSD 50), steam to Onslow Bay, NC to onload the Marines of the 22nd Marine Expeditionary Unit and then proceed at best speed to Haiti. When the call came, BATAAN was in a status that required her to be ready to get underway for a contingency in 96 hours - she made it in just 48 hours from a standing start; an extraordinary effort for her great crew, but typical of what I've seen BATAAN do throughout this operation.

BATAAN brings extensive command and control capabilities, a large flight deck and the ability to support many Navy and Marine helicopters for an extended period of time, and the largest afloat medical facility in the Navy other than one of our Hospital ships. Most of all, BATAAN brought our Sailors and Marines with all they can do to help in the relief efforts. This story gives you a quick glimpse of what I saw when I visited this ship and her terrific crew - "BATAAN Relief Efforts."

I was also able to visit the USS FT McHenry (LSD 43), one of our amphibious ships that can operate both helicopters and landing craft. All her capabilities were needed after she arrived and went to work as part of the Navy's Task Force 41. As I talked to many members of the crew, I heard one story after another of how our Sailors and Marines went ashore and just "figured it out", using their initiative to deal with the extensive devastation they found and get food, water and medical care to the people as soon as possible. See some of what these FORT McHENRY Sailors did here - "Sailors Ashore from FORT McHENRY Provide Relief in Haiti."

The USS GUNSTON HALL (LSD 44) was already loaded out for a deployment to our Africa Partnership Station when she was ordered to get underway and proceed to Haiti to participate in the relief operations. The first week after I took command of US Fleet Forces in July 2009 I visited the GUNSTON HALL and spent an afternoon onboard learning all I could about this ship and her crew. She was the first of our LSDs to go through the extensive mid-life modernization and I wanted to see the results up close. I had a great visit with the ship and found her crew to be a tough, capable bunch of "get 'er done" Sailors. After departing the BATAAN, I was able to get aboard GUNSTON HALL and see for myself what these Sailors were doing. As on the other ships, I found myself greatly inspired by what I saw and heard. GUNSTON HALL's relief work ashore has been focused on the area around the small town of Killick. This short story can give you a quick picture of what these sailors have done - "Gunston Hall Establishes Killick Landing Zone for Haitian Relief Efforts."
After departing BATAAN, I flew to our Naval station at Guantanamo Bay, about 160 miles from Haiti, and met with many of the Sailors from our Naval Expeditionary Combat Command (NECC) who deployed on no-notice and set up the logistics hub through which we're sending many of the supplies to our ships off Haiti. As on our ships, these NECC Sailors were highly motivated, exceptionally skilled and showed great initiative as they created the Navy's logistics chain to Haiti - moving people, relief supplies, enormous amounts of food and water and everything else our Sailors need to get the job done ashore. It's a real joint effort at Guantanamo; here's a clip of our Sailors loading an Army LCU for its trip to Haiti - "GTMO Serves as a Supply Hub."

What I've given you here is just a very small sample of what I saw first-hand when I visited our ships - I think I can sum it up by simply saying that I saw the very best our Navy has to offer. And while I was deeply inspired by what I saw, I was not surprised. We have the best men and women in the nation in our Navy and we're seeing them display their many talents, their extraordinary initiative and their unyielding dedication in Haiti. It's what our Sailors do every day, all around the globe.

When you next see the advertisement and hear the words, "The United States Navy - a global force for good", think of what our Sailors are doing in Haiti. Those words are true, as true as the Sailors who give them meaning. It is the great privilege of my life to serve with them. All the best, JCHjr



The ability of a Sailor to be thrown in to a situation with a million variables to track, and make sense and order out of it is a strength that the Navy has in more abundance than the other branches, in my experience.
The way I had to learn it, and many of my Shipmates was akin to drinking from a vari nozzel, it hurts. When you asked us about lowering standards and taking risk. This fact made me pause. A lot of the tasks demanded of us are not allotted enough time, and many of the tools we have are not good enough to get the best product. But, in dealing with imperfect tools and deadlines measured in hours and written in stone you learn how to adapt and overcome. You learn how to make the best out of loser situations. You almost learn how to make gold out of straw.

I was asked once by a reporter visiting my old ship about all the challenges we faced getting her ready for deployment. To answer him I asked him if we should be learning how to deal with the challenges off of the VA Capes, or if we should learn how to deal with them off of Somalia.

The biggest question I have is what these Sailors will have to say about the NWU now that they've worked miracles while wearing it. I saw a picture of Sailors humping boxes of relief supplies wearing the NWU. I have my own opinion of the uniform. But, I think their opinions are the most valid out of the whole of the Fleet.

BZ to you Sir and all involved in the effort down there. It has been motivating to watch. My Navy can send an Army Division's worth of Sailors IA/GSA, deploy its Ships all over the globe and still surge to help a devastated Nation. We can do what no other organization on Earth can do, and despite everything we think we do wrong, we still
get'er done better than anyone else.

YN2(SW) Battle Yeoman

Old Navy Veteran said...

As usual, Battle Yeoman is "right on the money." When I joined the Navy in the mid-60's, the very first thing they taught us was that everything we learned in "A" School was theoretically correct, but did NOT apply on real life board ship. The normal response to a question from "A" School training's difference to the matter at hand was, "Son, you're in the fleet now, we're gonna teach you how to do this job without getting yourself hurt or killed. "A" School is a great place, but they only give you the basics as they know it. I'm the Chief out here, I've been doin' this for 12 years, and it's my job to teach you how to do your job RIGHT so's you don't get anybody, including yourself killed! We do dangerous s___ out here, in heavy seas and high winds, that most 'sillyvillians' wouldn't even think about tryin' on land. So, we're gonna show you how it's REALLY done." By the way, your locker ain't very big; throw all that stuff from "A" School over the side and you'll have a lot more room in your locker. Haha" The Navy is the only organization that actively uses "lessons learned" on a daily basis and incorporates them into the latest training. Our people are constantly training in their job skill areas, in areas of family matters, health and hygiene, and most importantly, how to save a shipmate's life when he or she is "in extremis." We've learned by being in situations thousands of miles away from the nearest help how to help one another. I think this has set the stage early on for our thirst for knowledge; it's the reason we fit in so easily in IA/GSA positions, as stated by Battle Yeoman. We're just better prepared to handle ANYTHING they throw our away, AND we can do it with half the people they think we need. We've been doing more with less for so long that wa can now do miraculous things with practically nothing at all but our bare hands!


Old Navy Vet

Anonymous said...


I couldn't agree more. Our Sailors always find a way to adapt and overcome in situations like this because they are motivated by a spirit and desire to give and to help others.

Humanitarian Assistance and Disaster Response (HA/DR) is designated a "core capability" of the naval force. Now is the time to capture the lessons learned from OUR and put some real, executable plans on the shelf. With the talent and energy we have on the deckplates, we can do even better next time! And we all know there will be a next time.