By Maj. Gen. Simeon Trombitas
Trombitas is serving in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, as the commander of Joint Task Force-Haiti. He is also the commander of United States Army South in San Antonio, Texas.
From the moment that the devastating earthquake struck Haiti, Lt. Gen. Ken Keen was on the ground here, showing true commitment and dedication to the U.S. humanitarian mission and the people of Haiti. His departure and the transition to another phase of the operation on April 18 is a profound statement of his confidence that the international community has the capability, collaboration and security presence to continue supporting the Haitian government and its people down the long road ahead for Haiti’s reconstruction.
As I assume command of Joint Task Force-Haiti while we prepare for the rainy season, the mission of the JTF and Operation Unified Response remains unchanged: to save lives and mitigate suffering of the Haitian people. We stand ready to support USAID, the Government of Haiti and the international community as they focus on ensuring shelter, sanitation, settlement and security (the “Four S’s”) for Haitians.
Over the next several weeks, we will continue to adjust the forces of JTF-Haiti, retaining only those forces required to assist our partners. By the end of May, Joint Task Force-Haiti will furl its flag. However, U.S. Southern Command’s presence here and our partnership with Haiti will endure. We will continue our engagement by conducting multiple exercises over the coming months through traditional Humanitarian Civic Assistance, Humanitarian Assistance Program and New Horizons exercises.
Over the past years, SOUTHCOM and U.S. Army South have conducted these engagements and exercises that have built lasting partnerships with numerous countries throughout the region while providing a much needed service to the people of these countries. Currently teams of doctors and engineers are conducting these exercises in Panama, Nicaragua, El Salvador and Guatemala, strengthening our ties with those countries.
These types of exercises are tailored to the area receiving the assistance in coordination with the host nation’s government. They provide projects like building schools, clinics, community centers, orphanages, emergency operations centers, disaster response warehouses, wells, and potable water systems. Additionally, Exercise Continuing Promise – medical assistance visits by the hospital ship USNS Comfort and other naval assets – will be incorporated into our enduring presence in Haiti.
In Haiti, the first in a series of activities is scheduled to begin near the end of April as a Medical Readiness Exercise to provide the local population in Port Salut with needed medical services.
We have 12 medical exercises and 35 other humanitarian programs planned in the Haitian cities of Gonaives, Les Cayes and Jeremie. These projects will provide training for U.S. medical and engineering personnel and employ Haitian citizens to improve these cities’ infrastructure. We are targeting these cities because there has been an enormous influx of displaced Haitians into those cities from Port-au-Prince after the earthquake.
Our planners have met with community leaders in these towns to discuss where they most need assistance. Our objective is that our military assistance programs, in cooperation with the UN/NGOs/Interagency organizations, will provide support to those communities and encourage displaced Haitians to remain there and not return to Port-au-Prince, where camps are already overburdened.
I am proud and humbled to assume command of Joint Task Force-Haiti and the incredible Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen, Marines, Coast Guardsmen and DoD civilians who make up our team. Our servicemembers are all doing incredible work for the Haiti relief effort and establishing the baseline for our partnership and enduring relationship with the Haitian people.