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NEWS | June 1, 2010

Southcom completes Haiti disaster response

By Lisa Daniel American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, - The U.S. military today officially ended its hurricane disaster response in Haiti today, leaving what is left of assistance with humanitarian and construction projects on the island to two annual military exercises in the region.

U.S. Southern Command, which oversaw the massive relief effort, officially stood down the effort in Haiti's capital of Port-Au-Prince. "I am proud of Joint Task Force Haiti's accomplishments and the men and women who filled its ranks," Army Lt. Gen. Ken Keen, the first commander of the command's Joint Task Force-Haiti, said. Keen added that the relief effort couldn't have happened without the collaboration of the military with the State Department, nongovernmental organizations, and the Haitian government.

The Jan. 12, magnitude 7 earthquake triggered an immediate, response that, at its peak, included 22,000 forces - 7,000 based on land and the remainder operating aboard 58 aircraft and 15 nearby vessels, according to Southcom officials.

One of the first military contributions was the reopening of Toussaint L'Ouverture International Airport in Port au Prince by airmen with the 1st Special Operations Wing. The airmen landed on the island within 30 hours of the earthquake and, 30 minutes after landing, controlled airfield operations from a card table using hand-held radios to safely land and take-off hundreds of aircraft, a Southcom official said.

The hurricane response included one of the largest medical outreach efforts in history. Servicemembers treated and evaluated thousands of Haitian patients, including more than 8,600 on the Navy hospital ship USNS Comfort. Surgeons aboard the ship completed nearly 1,000 surgeries.

Military members also delivered more than 2.6 million bottles of water, 2.2 million food rations, 17 million pounds of bulk food and 149,000 pounds of medical supplies into Haiti.

While the hurricane response effort is over, Southcom officials noted that the military will continue humanitarian and construction projects in Haiti throughout the summer and fall hurricane season. The USS Iwo Jima is to arrive on the island in July as part of Continuing Promise 2010, an annual civic assistance exercise supported by U.S. and international military medical personnel, civilian government agencies, and academic institutions.

Also, about 500 National Guard members will begin construction projects in Haiti this month as part of its New Horizons, a program it began in the 1980s to conduct joint and combined humanitarian exercises that Southcom conducts annually in Latin America and the Caribbean. The exercises will include building schools, clinics and community centers that can also serve as hurricane shelters.

In additional to Continuing Promise and New Horizons, Southcom will fund $13 million of disaster preparedness and humanitarian assistance projects designed to enhance the capacity of the Haitian government to provide for the citizens.