By Lt. Gen. Ken Keen, U.S. Army Commander, Joint Task Force – Haiti
When an international humanitarian crisis occurs, the U.S. military is often called upon to be a first responder with its capacity to provide robust logistics, manpower resources and life saving aid. The earthquake that struck Haiti on January 12 caused one of the worst natural disasters any country has ever experienced. The response by the United States and the international community was and continues to be unprecedented. Two months have now passed, and the humanitarian situation today has transitioned from crisis response to one of sustained relief and long term recovery.
This transition has caused some to question whether the U.S. military’s presence is still required. I can tell you, without hesitation, the skills our soldiers, sailors, airmen, Marines, coastguardsmen and civilians bring to this humanitarian assistance mission are still useful. However, the U.S. military’s role should transition to other humanitarian and United Nation organizations for long-term relief and recovery.
The U.S. military’s role has evolved as the situation in Haiti has evolved. This occurs in every mission, and Haiti is no different. During the days immediately following the earthquake, the mission of the U.S. Joint Task Force – Haiti was to support the U.S. Government’s lead federal agency for providing humanitarian assistance, the United States Agency for International Development. Our mission was to save lives and provide security, when necessary, to support the delivery of water, food and medical care.
As the situation in Haiti evolved from emergency response to relief and recovery, the need for military support also transitioned. One example of this is the U.S. military partnering with the United Nation’s Coordination Support Council planning task force. This task force is chaired by the Government of Haiti and comprised of members from the UN, USAID, military and non-governmental organizations. One of its missions is the removal of debris from roadways and residential areas affected by the earthquake. The goal is to clear the debris from the roads and areas where homes once stood so the government can begin the recovery process, and families can return to their communities, reducing the need for settlement camps for displaced Haitians.
One skill set the U.S. military brings to the mission now is a complement of expert planners. Using the Military Decision Making Process or MDMP, we adapted a proven military planning process to fit the situation in Haiti. The result is a plan that meets the intent of the Government of Haiti and calls for moving or creating more space for displaced civilians living in overcrowded or flood-prone areas before the rainy season starts.
The UN, USAID and the hundreds of NGOs partnered with the Government of Haiti as they transition from emergency response to relief and recovery. They have years of experience addressing the wide spectrum of humanitarian needs and requirements for reconstruction and rebuilding. What the U.S. military brings to these types of interagency-run operations is years of experience in planning. It’s something we train our officers to do early on in their careers and this training is enhanced and reinforced as they progress through the ranks.
Today, the request for many of the skills the U.S. military provided in the days and weeks immediately following the earthquake have waned. As JTF-H forces begin to redeploy, there will be a transition of the remaining military requirements to the United States Southern Command’s (USSOUTHCOM) long-standing humanitarian assistance operations. These types of operations are already being planned for implementation in the coming months and will include medical assistance, construction of schools and emergency operation centers and development of hurricane preparation projects.
On behalf of all the Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen, Marines, Coastguardsmen and civilians who have served and are currently serving here as part of Operation Unified Response, I am proud to have answered our nation’s call for such a noble mission. The people of Haiti are extremely grateful. When I look into the eyes of the children and see the smiles on their faces, I see both resilience and hope. When I see the poverty, the thousands of homeless living in make-shift settlements, and a shattered city, I see the challenges of a nation that needs the world’s assistance.
As the U.S. military’s role decreases, the U.S. Government’s commitment remains steadfast as USAID mobilizes its resources to the fullest and the UN, international community and hundreds of NGOs step forward to provide much needed assistance. While they do this, the light needs to keep shining on this Caribbean nation so hope can overcome the challenges faced by the people of Haiti.