SOTO CANO AIR BASE, Honduras —
More than 200 Joint Task Force-Bravo and Special Purpose Marine Air Ground Task Force South personnel worked around the clock for 15 days providing airlift support carrying personnel and relief supplies to Hurricane Matthew-stricken Haiti. A combination of HH-53 Super Stallion, HH-60 Black Hawk, and CH-47 Chinook helicopters deployed to Haiti from Soto Cano starting Oct. 5. The extensive operation began wrapping up with personnel and cargo returning to SCAB beginning Oct. 16 and ended with all people and equipment back Oct. 20.
“It is quite an honor to be in command of JTF-Bravo,” said U.S. Army Col. Brian Hughes, JTF-Bravo commander. “The efforts the entire force put into executing this mission was tremendous. Between the 1st Battalion 228th Aviation Regiment, the Medical Element, Joint Security Forces and Army Forces Battalion, and the 612th Air Base Squadron, it was a full JTF-B effort synchronized with the SPMAGTF. They did tremendous work, I’m absolutely impressed with them.”
While in Haiti, SPMAGTF and 1-228 were part of Joint Task Force Matthew, a temporary command established by U.S. Southern Command in Port-au-Prince, under the command of U.S. Navy Rear Adm. Cedric Pringle, to coordinate and execute the combined Department of Defense supporting elements that included the Marine and Army aircraft from Soto Cano, and ships and aircraft from the Navy, Air Force and Coast Guard.
“It was hot, tiring and extremely rewarding”, said Lt. Col. Richard Tucker, 1-228 commander. “The troops were motivated and excited to work, fly, and move food and supplies as well as personnel that assessed the damage in Haiti, and also directed the goods and relief efforts to those places. We put in long hours and I’m very proud of all of their efforts.”
Tucker said what he was most excited about was that during the mission, uniforms really didn’t matter. It didn’t matter if it said U.S. Army, Air Force, or Marine Corps, everybody chipped in. On any given day they had army helicopters flying with Airmen or Marines in the back to assist with loading and unloading the goods. They conducted daily mixed flights with the CH-53s and also had the Navy H-60s coming in, landing at the parking area to load up goods. They talked to all the different aircraft and ships on the radios, made one landing to a Coast Guard cutter in order to move some distinguished visitors, and he was happy there was no competition and that it was a team effort.
Historically, U.S. military capabilities are needed most in the early stages of disaster relief operations, when fewer resources are available to help victims and impacted communities. As the relief missions progress and more experienced experts arrive to aid longer-term recovery, the roles previously performed by military units are then assumed by civilian disaster assistance experts and agencies.
“I’ve heard for a long time, don’t determine your importance based on the proximity to the battle or the fight; in this case the proximity to the humanitarian assistance that was required in Haiti,” said Hughes. “Our role was to push the element forward, support them while they were in Haiti, and to return them safely, which was equally as impressive from my perspective. It was an amazing joint effort. Out here on the ramp we had every branch of the service engaged, to include some local Honduran employees who were out here helping. It was a full team effort: Army, Navy, Air Force and Marines, as well as local civilians.”
Humanitarian assistance and disaster response in Central America are primary missions to JTF-Bravo. Though Haiti is not a part of the normal joint operations area, Joint Task Force-Bravo teams began staging relief at the request of SOUTHCOM and the government of Haiti on Oct. 5, and were prepared to stay as long as needed.
According to Adm. Kurt Tidd, U.S. Southern Command commander, the unique mission the military does in support of natural disaster relief efforts is moving out of Haiti and the civil footprint is ramping up as civilian medical and other support personnel move in for longer term relief effort. The U.S. is not leaving Haiti, just changing the way support is now provided.