U.S. NORTHCOM augmentee works to restore hope in Haiti

By Nola Leyde | U.S. Army Corp of Engineers | February 01, 2010

Thursday was just another Colorado morning commute for David Eyre, on his way to his job as a mobilized engineer officer for the U.S. Northern Command Standing Joint Forces Headquarters Civil Engineer, instead of as the regional engineer for the Veterans Health Administration in Glendale, where he is employed as a federal civil service employee.

Then his cell phone rang.

It was just 36 hours after the 7.0 earthquake in southern Haiti that caused extensive damage to the entire nation, and he was part of a joint team that responds to natural and manmade disasters and events. The SJFHQ NORTHCOM Situational Assessment Team had been activated to support the Haiti humanitarian mission, and he was now part of that mobilized team.

He turned his car around, notified his various other obligations, said his goodbyes at home and grabbed his gear. By 1 p.m. he had his shots updated, processed through the military’s preparation for overseas movement at Peterson Air Force Base, Colo., and by 3 p.m., he was on a plane to U.S. Southern Command’s headquarters in Miami. By Sunday evening, less than a week after the earthquake struck, the military civil engineer was in Haiti.

Army Lt. Col. David Eyre is an individual mobilization augmentee assigned to the U.S. Army Corps’ of Engineers, Seattle District. In May 2008, he was assigned to serve at U.S. Northern Command.

U.S. NORTHCOM has extensive experience in disaster response and is supporting U.S. Southern Command’s response and support for Haiti Earthquake relief efforts. About 150 U.S. NORTHCOM personnel are assisting U.S. SOUTHCOM in the coordination of the Department of Defense response to the earthquake.

“Our number one mission was to figure out if we could open the port,” Colonel Eyre said. “The port, although damaged from the initial earthquake, had never really closed, and our team assessed that it could continue operations. By Tuesday they were offloading a barge of humanitarian supplies that was already docked and very much needed.”

Colonel Eyre was part of a team that deployed to Joint Task Force Haiti to support the Logistics Assessment Team. The team, led by Marine Brig. Gen. Mike Dana, U.S. NORTHCOM J4 director of logistic and engineering, included Army Lt. Col. Mark Weinerth and Air Force Maj. Kevin Yokley, U.S. NORTHCOM J4; Navy Chief Petty Officer Chris Davis and Micah Ebersole U.S. NORTHCOM SJFHQ; and Cmdr. Matthew Ott, U.S. Pacific Command.

After working with the Navy and Military Sealift Command engineering and logistic resources to open up the port, the team moved on to assess logistics and engineering issues.

“The earthquake had done some extreme damage in areas,” Colonel Eyre said. “It depended on soil and building types. The presidential palace took seven years to build and 15 seconds to destroy. The Hotel Montana, a popular tourist accommodation, just pancaked on top of itself. Other parts of town, where there was new construction, it stayed up and allowed occupants to escape. It some areas the soil conditions were better than others, and homes and businesses survived.”

It is never easy, he went on. There were 3 million people in need of assistance, with more than 112,000 estimated dead and 196,500 reported to be injured.

“But we do what we were trained to do and have the ability to help people out,” he said. “It is rewarding as an engineer, rewarding as a person to help out those in need. There are some 20,000 service members working in Haiti, and all will tell you it gives them a sense of satisfaction.”

Some 6,000 military are on the ground and the rest are in vessels off shore, Colonel Eyre explained.

As of Jan. 28, Air Force Gen. Douglas Fraser, U.S. SOUTHCOM commander, said the seaport is bringing in about 200 containers a day, and he expects that capacity to more than double in the weeks ahead.

Also, in support of national response efforts led by the U.S. State Department, the U.S. Agency for International Development, and U.S. Southern Command, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has deployed an initial team of four engineers in response to the earthquake in Haiti, including subject matter experts in civil, structural, electrical and hydrological engineering.

Many others throughout USACE and in Seattle District stand by to assist as the mission moves from response to recovery.

It is the ability of the U.S. military to quickly respond in time of need that is invaluable, said Colonel Eyre.

“I have learned that you never take anything for granted, you have to be prepared for the unexpected. Every exercise, every event one participates in gives you tools. When you have to make use of them – whether they are contacts or skills -- you have the ability to use them,” Colonel Eyre said. “And in a joint team, you have access not only to the Corps, but to all of engineering community – the Navy, Air Force and the Corps. Everyone is stepping up and going to town.”

Information from USAID, Southcom, Northcom and Corps news releases were used in this story.