News: Army Guard prepares for role in Haiti
Story by Sgt. 1st Class Jon Soucy
ARLINGTON, Va. — As humanitarian relief continues in Haiti, the Army National Guard stands ready to provide personnel and equipment to support the mission, senior Army Guard officials said today.
"We stand by ready, willing and able to assist as soon as they sort out what the requirements are and what they want the Army Guard to fill," said Army Col. David Aycock, deputy chief of staff of operations for the Army Guard.
Currently, a Puerto Rico Army National Guard unit is the only Army Guard unit participating in relief operations in Haiti.
"The Puerto Rico Army National Guard with three UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters and 13 personnel has been committed to the Haiti relief effort," said Aycock.
But there may be additional Army Guard assets sent to Haiti in the coming days.
"We were asked yesterday to look at our ability to provide a command and communications company out of a general support aviation battalion," said Aycock. "So, within the next 24 hours or so we may have a validated requirement for an aviation company to go down there."
Sending in the aviation company would provide additional Black Hawk helicopters as well as LUH-72A Lakota helicopters, said Aycock.
The missions currently being flown by the Puerto Rico unit in Haiti involve airlifting water and rescue equipment, movement of personnel and casualty evacuation, said Aycock.
Other Guard assets, such as Chemical, Biological, Radiological, Nuclear, and High Yield Explosives Enhanced Response Force Packages (CERF-P), are trained in urban search and extraction in disaster situations.
"I don't want to be the one to guess whether they go down or not, but I will tell you that the farther away, time wise, you are from the event the less effective a search and extraction team is," said Aycock.
The Haiti government announced over the weekend that the search and rescue phase of the operation had closed.
Aycock said that the next few weeks may see a transition to reserve component units, including those from the Army Guard, taking the lead in Haiti.
"The Army has asked us to look at some alternative solutions to provide some options for either additional forces that may be required or to replace some of the forces that are already on the ground sometime in the near future," said Aycock. "My personal perspective is this thing is going to transition more and more to the reserve component-side of the house in the weeks ahead."
However, which units or types of units that would be activated has not yet been determined.
"We've been asked to staff some potential options," said Aycock. "We don't have a hard requirement yet but we're looking at some organizational constructs of what we think would be the right force structure to go down there within the parameters we've been given."
Those parameters may change based on the needs on the ground and any mission plan would have to be first validated by the U.S. Southern Command, which has the overall command responsibility for U.S. forces in Haiti.
"We still have to go through the process of getting a validation from both Forces Command and Southern Command that the force mix we're working meets the requirement on the ground," said Aycock. "And, we would need to put specific Army Guard solutions against that list, brief the leadership here and then engage with those states that own those units."
Several states have already volunteered for missions in Haiti.
"I think probably every state out there has come up on the net at some point and offered their assistance and engaged with us about their ability to provide forces and their willingness to provide forces should they get an opportunity to do that," said Aycock.
For now, Puerto Rico remains as the sole Army Guard asset on-station as well as being among the first U.S. military units to respond to the earthquake.
"Obviously, if it were up to us, we would put other units down there, but that's not the way the process works," said Aycock, who described the process as more of a pulling one than one that the Army Guard pushes units into.
"Although we do have to wait on a pull system, we have significant capability in the Army Guard to apply against this if asked to apply it," said Aycock. "And you can bet your boots we'll provide it."