LEOGANE, Haiti -- Since Jan. 18, Marines and Sailors from the 22nd Marine Expeditionary Unit have been working hard in the multinational humanitarian assistance and disaster relief effort in earthquake-devastated Haiti, called Operation Unified Response.
The 22nd MEU set up a major supply distribution point in the town of Leogane, Haiti, Jan. 19, to help in the mission. Since then, the landing zone named "LZ Mongoose" is the primary area of operations for the 22nd MEU, receiving thousands of pounds of relief supplies a day.
In order to bring relief to rural areas surrounding Leogane yet to receive aid, the Marines and Sailors of the 22nd MEU are creating new landing zones.
The morning of Jan. 24, Marines and Sailors of Lima Company, Battalion Landing Team, 3rd Battalion, 2nd Marine Regiment, 22nd MEU, waited anxiously on the Amphibious Assault Ship USS Bataan. With gear lined up, ready to go, platoon sergeants and squad leaders checked their Marines, ensuring all were prepared for the ensuing mission.
A few moments later, Lima Company was aboard CH-53E Super Stallion Helicopters from Marine Heavy Helicopter Squadron 461 (Reinforced), on their way to establish a new distribution point for the people of Leogane.
As the helicopters landed in a sugar cane field, Haitians from the area gathered to watch the Marines arrival as they poured out of the rear of each aircraft.
Upon landing, the company of Marines quickly established a command post at a pre-existing missionary complex in preparation for humanitarian assistance operations for earthquake victims in the surrounding area.
As the troops arrived, aid workers from God's Missionary Church, from Penns Creek, Pa., were already hard at work providing basic medical care for the injured.
Using their linguist, Marines from the company assisted the aid workers by organizing the crowd of anxiously waiting women and children. Staff Sgt. Clausele Barthold, a French/Creole speaking linguist attached to the company, translated information and directions from the medical-aid workers.
Barthold, a Port-au-Prince, Haiti, native, made it clear that Haitians expressed gratefulness for the Marines' presence in the area. He spent the afternoon answering questions and listening to the locals' concerns and needs.
"Their major concerns right now are tents and food," he said. "Water is not a major concern in this area; they have wells and told me not to worry much about water."
Barthold expressed his satisfaction with helping his native people during their time of need.
"I am ecstatic, overwhelmed, joyful," he stated. "But it's a little painful to see all the suffering. You have to cope with the fact that these are your people ... but we're doing a lot and they're grateful."
He reassured the Haitians gratefulness for the assistance from the Marines and Sailors.
"I know I can't speak for the whole population, but I know the people here are happy we're here," he continued. "They love the Marines."
Throughout the day, crowds of Haitian children gathered around the Marines, curious of the new visitors to their country. Marines and Sailors quickly learned to communicate with the locals and spent the remainder of the day assisting aid workers, spending time getting to know the local populace, handing out rations and interacting with children.
In the afternoon, Capt. James W. Birchfield, company commander, Lima Company, dispatched reconnaissance patrols to survey the area for future operations. Marines and Sailors walked down the devastated streets of Leagone marking key points such as water sources and possible distribution points to use in the following days.
While the company set up the compound, missionaries working at the sight informed the Marines of a woman down the road who was paralyzed during the Jan. 12, earthquake.
A small group of hospital corpsman and Marines responded to the injured woman and provided a medical evacuation using a U.S. Navy MH-60S Night Hawk helicopter from Sea Combat Helicopter Squadron 22, which air lifted the patient to a Navy ship for further medical treatment.
As night fell on the compound, the company began preparing for the next day's operations.
When the Marines woke the morning of Jan. 25, they quickly finished preparing the area to receive relief supplies for distribution.
Birchfield, a Montgomery, Ala., native, explained that the missionary complex is an ideal location to receive and store new shipments of humanitarian aid.
"We don't have that much manpower, so we need a place to keep gear and supplies while keeping the crowd orderly," he said. "It's a lot easier to secure a compound than it is an open field."
Birchfield hopes to make the location a distribution point for people around the area who have yet to receive aid.
"The whole scheme and maneuver is to get a place established, get it secured and up and running, so it will allow us to bring in an increased amount of supplies and get them pushed out," he continued. "We're here to try and help out as many people as we can. Once we get this site open, we will be able to reach out to areas that haven't received any aid so far."
While waiting for supplies to arrive from the USS Bataan, the Marines and Sailors of the company collected food from their own rations to hand out to the people. Excitement filled the air as the Marines and Sailors handed out their food to the anxiously awaiting Haitians.
Jan. 26, the company began their first major aid distribution using the new site.
Working with United Nations security forces from the Sri Lankan army, Lima Company Marines received over 1,200 humanitarian rations to distribute amongst earthquake victims in the area.
Using an open sugar cane field approximately 500 meters from the compound, the Marines and Sailors established an organized line, allowing 10 people from the crowd of approximately 400 Haitians to receive rations at one time.
With the meals handed out, the joyful Haitians laughed and celebrated as they thanked the Marines and Sailors for their service. Men and women shook the hands of Marines and many shouted "Merci," the French/Creole word for thank you.
Lance Cpl. Randy R. Tilley, a rifelman with the company explained that the humanitarian assistance operations in Haiti are a rewarding time.
"They're just really grateful for us being here," said the Woodbury, Conn., native. "It's been a good experience. It's been good helping somebody in need."
After the distribution, the Marines headed back to the compound to organize supplies and plan for future operations.
The U.S. Marine Corps deployed the 22nd MEU Jan. 16, to assist with the disaster. Since Jan. 18, Marines have conducted around the clock humanitarian assistance operations in several locations throughout Haiti.