In the thick of it: D9 Guardians in Haiti

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The news is abuzz today with reports that a second powerful earthquake has struck the island nation of Haiti.
Here’s a good news report of some of the Coast Guard’s first relief efforts in Haiti following the first quake.

While the world has watched the tragedy unfold on their television sets, news of this second quake strikes close to home for those of us here in the Ninth Coast Guard District who are watching with pride as the U.S. Coast Guard places itself once again in the thick of it to lend our assistance to complete strangers in a foreign land. A handful of our shipmates from Air Station Detroit and the District staff are among those Guardians assisting Haiti. Even more D9 Coast Guard men and women have volunteered to deploy and assist.

As the Commandant stated in his recent all-hands email, “this is what we do.” However, one thing is abundantly clear from the accounts and images coming out of this response. Our shipmates who are responding to this tragedy, though they comport themselves with the greatest professionalism, are deeply stricken by the depth of human suffering and devastation they are finding in this tiny island nation.

(Right: Petty Officer 3rd Class Antonio Seisdedos [LEFT], of Brooklyn, N.Y., and Seaman Apprentice Chloe Hicks [CENTER] of Jacksonville, Ark., help a young, injured Haitian girl put in ear plugs just prior to be loaded into an Air Station Detroit rescue helicopter for transport to a hospital Monday, January 18, 2010. Seisdedos helped the crew communicate with the patients by translating for them, explaining what the crew was doing and asking if the patients were comfortable. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Etta Smith)


First reports out of Haiti came to us from Cmdr. Nicholas Koester, of Air Station Detroit, whose helicopter crew was deployed aboard the Coast Guard Cutter Forward, which was the first American ship into Haiti following the devastating quake.

He and the rest of his Detroit aircrew; Lt. j.g. David Janney, Aviation Maintenance Technician First Class Jeffery Breidenbach and Aviation Electrician Technician Second Class Duane Zitta, were among the first U.S. aviators to land in Haiti to render assistance and perform damage assessments.

One of their first tasks was to take Maj. Gen. Floriano Viera Neto, the next in line to lead UN military forces in Haiti, on a damage-assesment overflight. But as of the flight Jan. 13th, the morning after the quake, Neto found himself thrust into command. “His civilian counterpart who was in charge and his chief-of-staff were two of the many members of his unit that were killed in the collapse of the UN Headquarters building,” said Koester in his email.

“He [Neto] directed us over a hilltop base ‘Fort National,’ it had also collapsed. They had been pulling out bodies and draping sheets over them. They were his men. As the day drew on we saw more people coming to the streets and open area. At the end of the day all open/ public areas were filled with homeless people.

Dave [Janney] and I flew into the UN air base to coordinate possible refueling and lift operations. As we spoke to UN officials at Alpha Base the ground heaved up and down under all of us like the earth burped. They said ‘that was nothing’ but I couldn’t conceive how the concrete ramp could move up and down while we stood there. In fact, I don’t know how to describe what we saw today. Don’t think I can give justice to the grand scale of human suffering that is happening now as I sit well fed and cared for on my cutter,” emailed Koester.

It’s now more than a week later, and the Air Station Detroit crew is still hard at work. Extract of an email from Cmdr. Koester Jan. 19th:
(Right: PORT AU PRINCE, Haiti- Coast Guard Cutter Mohawk crewmembers help carry a young Haitian girl on a stretcher to a Dolphin rescue helicopter where she will be airlifted to a local hospital for treatment of her serious leg injury Monday, January 18, 2010. The Mohawk crew spent the day evacuating critical patients by small boat from a makeshift clinic in Port as Prince to the ship to be medevaced, eventually airlifting about 16 patients for treatment. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Etta Smith)
“Big day, LTJG [David] Janney and I are exhausted. The 65 is a difficult platform to work multiple lifts off of dead-in-the-water cutters and land and remote mountain hospital pads … The site we were landing at was a village hospital in Milot [an incredible little Red Cross hospital nestled into a mountain valley.] It is about 60 miles north of Port-au-Prince.

Evacuated nine people, most with head, leg or arm fractures. Two children flew the first time out; there was a little girl with a compound fracture to her left lower leg, her foot was not facing the right direction, keep in mind it has been six days since she was injured. A little boy also had an injured leg. They were excited and scared, AET2 [Duane] Zitta sat in the back with them. They latched on to his hands as we flew across the mountain passes. Then AET2 Zitta had to put on the MP hat and marshal the crowd. Once we knew what we were up against he did a great job of coordinating patient transfers.

AMT1 [Jeffery] Breidenbach is doing an awesome job getting work done on the helo. They have it posted and are working on an inspection now. I lucked out having him as a plane captain. Just a few hours of sleep last night and a long day today. Tomorrow looks like more of the same. Exhausted but very pleased to be doing our mission,” stated Koester.

Public Affairs Specialist Third Class Brandon Blackwell (left), from the Ninth District Public Affairs office, has also found himself deployed to support the U.S. relief efforts in Haiti. His images and video can be found in our visual imagery database.
Good luck team! Our thoughts are with you all.

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