HAITI - Eight months after an earthquake devastated an already fragile Caribbean nation, approximately 200 soldiers of the Indiana National Guard returned from Haiti in September to report that devastation still reigns, but recovery remains the priority.
Military police, engineers and medical units of 81st Troop Command volunteered for two extra weeks of annual training, to be counted among the thousands of responders still working to stabilize the western edge of Hispaniola, the island Haiti shares with the Dominican Republic, 750 miles to the southeast of the Florida coast.
“The want to help, they want to help,” said 1st Sgt. Christopher Warren, the 381st Military Police Company’s top enlisted soldier.
The unit provided security for forward operating bases where civil and military responders have based operations in support of recovery efforts.
“The situation is worse than anything I saw in Iraq,” said Warren, and added that the people of Haiti are very kind and appreciative, often thanking the soldiers and offering gifts.
Col. Mark Litz of the Indiana Medical Detachment led efforts to provide medical support to first responders, as well as provide humanitarian aid to Haitians suffering from the lack of the most basic health care.
“There are a lot of infections,” said Litz. “We treated minor lacerations, infections and offered education on basic nutrition, public health, safe water handling and sanitation.”
Litz and Warren said that the experience goes beyond providing their soldiers with an opportunity to serve their fellow man. The experience of operating in a disaster zone can be invaluable experience to prepare the Indiana National Guard to respond in future crises, according to Lt. Col. Deedra Thombleson, 81st Troop Command executive officer.
“Many of these soldiers have deployed to Afghanistan and Iraq, as well as to the Katrina disaster,” said Thombleson. “The Indiana National Guard has [experience], a lot of it.”
Thombleson said that the number of training exercises and the scope of the exercises also add to the quality of the typical soldier in the National Guard today. She felt that the state’s adjutant general, Maj. Gen. R. Martin Umbarger, was instrumental in setting the Indiana Guard up for success.
“Major General Umbarger has made sure we have the opportunity and resources to train, train like the National Guard has never trained before, and that has created a force that is more prepared to respond than ever before,” said Thombleson.
The emphasis on training has made for a significantly higher operations tempo for Indiana National Guard soldiers, but has also led to a state militia force that has been able to respond to the needs of the state and country according to Thombleson.
“General Umbarger is very aware of the sacrifices, all the hard work of the Indiana National Guard,” said Thombleson. “But I don’t think he could do it any other way. He feels he owes it to the citizens of Indiana, to the families and most importantly to the soldiers.
“What continues to impress me is how these units, these individual soldiers step up to that challenge, just like these soldiers who have just returned from Haiti,” she concluded.