Friday, January 15, 2010

Marines Embark on Haiti Response Mission

Marines assigned to the 22nd Marine Expeditionary Unit (22nd MEU) prepare to depart the multi-purpose amphibious assault ship USS Bataan (LHD 5) after completing a seven-month deployment with the Bataan Amphibious Ready Group. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Kelvin Edwards/Released)

By Army Sgt. 1st Class Michael J. Carden, American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON (NNS) -- About 2,000 North Carolina-based Marines are making final preparations Jan. 15 to embark to earthquake-ravaged Haiti Jan. 16 to provide disaster-relief efforts.

The 22nd Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU) will bring a multi-mission capability to Haiti to provide disaster relief and, if necessary, security assistance, a spokesman for the unit said during a telephone news conference Jan. 15 from Camp Lejeune, N.C.

The Marines expect to provide direct support for the ongoing relief efforts there, although they haven't been given a specific mission yet. But they're well prepared for any number of challenges, said Marine Corps Capt. Clark Carpenter.

"We foresee this mission as however our assets can best be applied to the situation," said Carpenter. "We will be able to support any number of things that will be asked of us. I think the key is to get down there and figure out how our assets are going to best support the mission."

Carpenter said the 22nd MEU is well suited for this type of operation because of its amphibious capability - supplies, aid, equipment and manpower can be moved by sea and air. And while the infrastructure in Haiti already is under stress, the Marines can base their operations from the sea, getting their food, water and shelter from ships rather than tapping into the limited supplies ashore, he added.

"We don't know if we're going to sea-base or not, [but it] reduces the strain on an already strained infrastructure," he explained. "We have a great flexibility from those ships. We can sea-base, push people to shore and run operations."

The force is deploying aboard three Navy ships – USS Bataan (LHD 5), USS Carter Hall (LSD 50) and USS Fort McHenry (LSD 43) – with CH-35 Chinook and UH-1 Huey helicopters. They're leaving their tanks and artillery equipment at home for this deployment, but will bring additional trucks and earth-moving equipment, the captain said.

Also, the 22nd MEU will deploy with additional French- and Creole-speaking interpreters, public affairs specialists and possibly more medical personnel and engineers from other Marine units. Carpenter praised the support the 22nd MEU has been given from fellow Marine units at Camp Lejeune and throughout the Marine Corps.

"The great thing about his whole process is that all the Marines here have bent over backwards to make sure we get what we need," he said. "It's been fast-paced organizing and getting ready to get on the ships, but it's been made a lot simpler by the singular focus of Marines on this base."

The Marines expect to depart by ship Jan. 16 and arrive in three to four days. The length of their deployment is uncertain for now, but the Marines are preparing to be gone for at least 30 days, he said.

"We're looking at a minimum of 30 days, but we're prepared to support the mission as long as we're asked to be down there," he added.

Despite returning in December 2009 from a seven-month deployment sailing through the U.S. European Command and U.S. Central Command areas, morale among the deploying Marines and their families is high, Carpenter said.

Many of the Marines were on post-deployment leave when they were recalled, he noted, but they're eager to help in relieving the Haitian people's suffering.

"We did just get back a month ago, but the morale is off the charts here," he said. "We are absolutely ready to go. The images we've been seeing on the news, it's catastrophic, and it's very sad.

"Marines are definitely warriors first, and that is what the world knows the Marines for," he continued, "[But] we're equally as compassionate when we need to be, and this is a role that we'd like to show - that compassionate warrior, reaching out with a helping hand for those who need it. We are very excited about this."