Jan 22, 2010

Marines of Mercy !!

Throngs Swarm Around Marines Of Mercy
Officer says troops are excited to 'do something meaningful'
By Mark D. Faram, Navy Times

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti — U.S. Marines headed farther into the western villages of Haiti on Thursday to deliver food and water to people who have seen very little as the government announced it would move 400,000 people living in camps to remote areas.

"The Marines are very excited to be here, to deploy and do something meaningful," said Lt. Col. Gary Keim, the commanding officer of Combat Logistics Battalion 22. "They were just glad to make people smile."

About 1.5 million Haitians are homeless after an earthquake Jan. 12. Many are in camps in the capital.

Fritz Longchamp, chief of staff to President Rene Preval, said buses would soon take people to new camps in the eastern suburb of Croix des Bouquets. West of the capital, several hundred Marines from the 22nd Marine Expeditionary Unit have been setting up landing zones for helicopters since the troops' arrival Tuesday.

Massive CH-53E Super Stallion helicopters landed in pastures with pallets of bottled water.

Staff Sgt. Clausele Barthold, a native Haitian who speaks Creole, was among a squad that headed into a remote area to clear a way for aid trucks from Catholic Relief Services (CRS). The area smelled of human waste and decaying vegetables. A cemetery was crowded with above-ground crypts like those in New Orleans.

Buildings along the road were either destroyed or damaged. People stretched sheets and blankets on poles for shelter next to rubble piles that were once their homes.

Cpl. Michael Hardy's radio crackled: Trucks from CRS were on the way. Hardy set up a spot for food distribution behind a partially intact 15-foot concrete wall outside a home. A crowd gathered, and the Marines moved them into a line, but once the people heard the trucks, they tried to push ahead of one another.

When workers started pulling out 110-pound bags of beans, more people appeared and pushed into the wall toward the Marines.

"If I give the word we're shutting this down, we need to be ready to get out of here," Hardy said.

The crowd came close to rioting, and the concrete wall swayed, threatening to topple on the Marines. Barthold warned the crowd in their native language to stop or the trucks would leave.

Hardy told the squad members to move to "Condition Three," or to put a magazine of bullets into their rifles. A quick reaction force of Marines arrived and moved the crowd back as the trucks revved their engines and started to pull away.

It turned out to be the right move. Once the people saw the trucks moving out, they pulled back. Hardy ordered his men to remove the magazines from their weapons. The crowd dispersed, and the Marines headed to the landing zone for a more orderly distribution of food and water.

"Take your fingers off your triggers," Hardy said, "It looks less hostile that way."

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