U.S. NORTHCOM members continue to support humanitarian efforts in Haiti

By Staff Sgt. Thomas J. Doscher

PETERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. –Members of U.S. Northern Command continue to deploy in support of Operation Unified Response, the ongoing humanitarian relief effort in Haiti.

U.S. military personnel were deployed to assist Haiti after the Caribbean island nation was all but destroyed by a 7.0 earthquake Jan. 12.

“About 190 of our people are committed to that effort, some at Tyndall (Air Force Base, Fla.), some in Miami at U.S. Southern Command and some in Haiti,” said Air Force Gen. Gene Renuart, North American Aerospace Defense Command and U.S. NORTHCOM commander. “We have contributed a number of our key experts in logistics, operational planning and interagency coordination, with a team around those individual experts to just plug right in to General Fraser’s staff at U.S. Southern Command.”

As part of the effort, NORAD and U.S. NORTHCOM’s Command Control Systems Directorate (J6) sent communications planners to assist U.S. SOUTHCOM in the command, control, communications and computers realm based on their needs.

“We tailor any sort of support based on what we think the requirements are or what we are told the requirements are,” said James Cronkite, J6 C4 Future Operations chief. “We sent out two C4 planners. Those are people well-versed in the national response framework, how we provide support doing our Defense Support of Civil Authorities mission set. We sent one spectrum manager down responsible for doing frequency de-confliction and frequency coordination for any emitter that might be in the area, whether it happens to be a single channel, hand held radio to the big boxes you have out there.”

Mr. Cronkite said their training in Defense Support of Civil Authorities missions and the disasters of the past helped them plan for the current crisis.

“Because of the nature of DSCA type events, you normally rely very heavily on satellite communications,” he explained. “In our case, post-Katrina, we have leased 72 megahertz of commercial KU SATCOM bandwidth. We sent down a satellite planner down as well. It’s his job to plan how that asset is going to be used and resourced. He will be looking at that bandwidth and how we can maximize that bandwidth to support the forces whether they’re in the forward area down at SOUTHCOM and the people deployed to Haiti as well.”

Chad Duncan, N-NC J636 Satellite Communications Section planner and global broadcast service theater information manager, was deployed to U.S. SOUTHCOM in Miami one day after getting married to assist in processing requests for satellite service for military and relief organizations in Haiti.

“Many units are deployed to Haiti in what will likely be the largest humanitarian assistance mission that U.S. SOUTHCOM has ever undertaken in order to rebuild the destroyed infrastructure in a secure environment,” he said. “The communications portion of that infrastructure was barely able to support the people before the earthquake, and with the deployment of multiple satellite communications terminals using different mediums, they will be able to accomplish this mission.”

General Renuart said the nature of U.S. NORTHCOM and its mission made it easy to quickly support the efforts in Haiti.

“Part of our goal each day is to prepare for large scale disasters, so when the earthquake struck Port Au Prince and Haiti we had some capacity that we could provide to Gen. Fraser and U.S. SOUTHOM that would enable them to respond to a disaster of this size,” he said. “Our components practice and train, they’re certified in functions that are necessary to large scale disaster response, and while they are trained to focus that here in the homeland, it is easy for them, because of the interagency nature of our team, to plug in anywhere.”

The command is not only supporting U.S. SOUTHCOM in the technical and logistical realm, but in the spiritual one as well.

Army Chaplain (Col.) Thomas Vail, NORAD and U.S. NORTHCOM command chaplain, said two chaplains from the command were sent to help coordinate relief efforts… and he wants to send more.

“I’m about to offer two or three more,” he said. “The situation is hard. It’s complex. I know what they’re up against.”

Navy Chaplain (Cmdr.) David Rodriguez, NORAD-U.S. NORTHCOM chaplain, is one of the two chaplains sent to support U.S. SOUTHCOM, working to coordinate the efforts of chaplains scattered throughout the area.

“I’m helping to coordinate the work of the U.S. Navy chaplains involved in earthquake relief,” he said. “These chaplains are on Navy ships where they provide care to the Haitians receiving medical treatment. They also care for the crews on their ships who are struggling with traumatic stress. In addition to this, these chaplains are regularly leaving their ships to provide care on the ground in Haiti.”

Chaplain Rodriguez is also helping the personnel leaving Haiti with emotional stress by modifying a Navy program that helps Sailors on their way home from Iraq and Afghanistan.

“This program will be a joint effort between chaplains and medical workers,” he said. “It will involve classes, counseling and referrals to mental health workers as necessary.”

Mr. Duncan said that while he and the others might not set foot on the ground in Haiti, their efforts are having an impact on the Haitians and the people helping them.

“The best part about being involved in Operation Unified Response is knowing that even though I would rather be on the ground in Haiti providing hands-on support, my efforts from here at U.S. SOUTHCOM headquarters directly affect the well-being and recovery of the people of this devastated country,” he said. “Even though we’re a nation at war on two different fronts across the ground, we are still able to undertake a major coalition, interagency, multi-combatant command effort to provide stability and ease suffering in yet another part of the world.”