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PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti — Millions of bottles of water, pallets of rations stretching over an airport tarmac disappearing into the dusty haze, hundreds of trucks filled with bags of rice, a battle hardened U.S. Army Soldier on bended knee gently handing a day's supply of food to a young girl, or massive earth moving machines carefully clearing the rubble of fallen buildings to reveal an earthquake survivor; these are the images seen each and every day in Haiti. But, none of this could be possible without a certain group of paratroopers working in the background, orchestrating the supply of this massive humanitarian aid and assistance mission, ensuring that the 2nd Brigade Combat Team has the equipment and aid supplies they need to reach out to the citizens of Haiti.
They are called the Gold Falcons, these paratroopers of the 407th Brigade Support Battalion, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, and their mission is often successfully completed without the fanfare and glory received by their brethren on the front lines. It is easy to forget that these front line victories could not be possible without the support of the Gold Falcons.
Each evening the leaders of the Gold Falcons assemble in a small tent next to the runway of the Haiti International Airport to coordinate the daily distribution to the 2BCT assets. "You deploy with what you've got," said Lt. Col. Matt Shatzkin, commander, 407th BSB. "You have to be like Lewis and Clark and find the right equipment or contract to get the job done."
The small Haiti International Airport was the busiest airport in the world following the devastating earthquake, Jan. 12. Hundreds of civilian and military aircraft landed, disgorging their cargos of Soldiers, equipment and supplies. Of course there was limited room on the tarmac for all this cargo. Using heavy vehicles, special lifting equipment, and 24-hour non-stop labor, the Gold Falcons started organizing the supplies and delivering them to the battalions of the 2BCT and various organizations working to bring humanitarian aid to Haiti.
Up to 15 convoys depart each day to different locations around Port-au-Prince and the surrounding countryside. "We ship humanitarian and sustainment aid for the brigade, nongovernment organizations or any organization that needs help," stated Sgt. 1st Class Montrell Kea, platoon sergeant, A Company, 407th BSB. "We have the assets they need."
Through the dark of night, navigating the twisted roads and byways of Port-au-Prince, made less navigable by fallen buildings, the Gold Falcon convoys move like they have been working here for years and not a few short weeks. We run the majority of the supply missions at night, Sgt. Walter Isengard, a motor transport operator, A Company, 407th BSB, said. The curfew keeps the traffic down at night and we can operate faster and with less chance of an accident in these crowded streets, he continued.
In less than 30 minutes, a convoy has traveled across Port-au-Prince to the Petionville Club where the 1st Squadron, 73rd Cavalry Regiment has set up a forward operating base. In less than an hour, that same convoy has delivered its load of food and water, and headed back to the airport.
Talking about this particular convoy, Spc. Marco Marquez, motor transport operator, A Company, 407th BSB, said "We run two or three convoys to different locations every night and sometime they run into the day."
Its not only the challenges of transportation the Gold Falcons have to face, it is also a myriad of logistical issues they must overcome. "We are structured for a combat environment and geared for self-sustainment," Isengard said. "Now we have a whole country that needs food and water and we are trying to sustain the whole thing. It's a whole different set of logistical challenges."
Food, water, humanitarian aid, medical supplies, vehicles, generators and a myriad of other pieces of equipment or supplies are delivered daily throughout Haiti and the surrounding countryside. In the non-stop passing of convoys, the Gold Falcons supply the tools necessary to keep the massive Haitian relief effort running. Even as these paratroopers unload hundreds of containers and vehicles from ships arriving at the port of Port-au-Prince the pace never slows. "We are the first line. We are the base on which the humanitarian aid mission is built," said Capt. Albert Park, commander, B Company, 407th BSB.
Shatzkin compares the challenges they are facing in Haiti with missions they have been training for back at Fort Bragg, N.C. We trained on purifying water for mass consumption at MacArthur Lake on Fort Bragg, he said. But here in Haiti we have to adapt our skills in water treatment to newly dug and pre-existing wells within the city.
"You have to find a way to make things work," Shatzkin stated.
No one notices when the Gold Falcons are operating at full capacity, supplying the humanitarian aid work in Haiti. Without fail the 2nd BCT paratroopers and the aid workers have the supplies they need to continue on with their mission. "If we are doing everything right, no one notices." Shatzkin said. "We are behind the scenes making the soldier successful."
It is the precision download, delivery and distribution capabilities of the Gold Falcons that make the efforts of the 2nd BCT and its partners successful. "We work so everyone doesn't have to look over their shoulders wondering where their supplies are," Shatzkin said. "They can focus on the mission at hand, whether that's the fight or the humanitarian mission here in Haiti."