UPDATE: In the thick of it: D9 Guardians in Haiti

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Our Ninth District shipmates continue to do all they can to help the people of Haiti in the midst of the massive, on-going international relief effort.
PA3 Brandon Blackwell is capturing images and video of Coast Guard people rendering aid to the stricken. His photos accompany this post.
(Right: PA3 Brandon Blackwell, from the Ninth Coast Guard District Public Affairs Office prepares to head out with relief workers to deliver aid to the people of Haiti. U.S. Coast Guard photo.)
Cmdr. Nicholas Koester and the rest of his Air Station Detroit helicopter crew are medevacing critically injured Haitians off shore to the USNS Comfort. Here’s an excerpt from one of Koester’s emails (it has been edited to remove jargon):

(Left: PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti – A Coast Guard C-130 aircraft from Coast Guard Air Station Clearwater, Fla., takes on Haitian American passengers prior to an air evacuation to Homestead, Fla., on Jan. 20, 2010. One of the United States key missions is to evacuate U.S. citizen from earthquake-torn Haiti. The Coast Guard is primarily using C-130 aircraft to evacuate U.S. citizens. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Brandon Blackwell.)
“Arrival at Port-au-Prince was like a scene from Independence Day. There were five landing platforms in a 1/4 mile square area. The ships have all anchored real close to the city which created significant helicopter congestion.

The USNS Comfort was surround by three H60s [helicopters]. Aircraft were coming and going from several of the other ships all around the Comfort. Every takeoff was a practice in self-preservation, as just getting to the ship where you wanted to land was nerve racking.

Imagine 53Es, H60Fs, and H60Js swarming around ships and two little Coast Guard H65Cs (Air Station Detroit and HITRON) working their way into the patterns. We picked up ship frequencies and names literally on the fly, checked in and joined the que. Thankfully, the [Navy] carriers stayed further out about 5-6 miles. The ships were purely a joy to work with as it was easy in, easy gas and easy out…
We had everything stripped out of our helicopter to cut down on weight and make more room. We stayed light, and packed in patients. [We] started out straight to Killick landing zone (LZ) and onto the Comfort, and then back to Killick six or seven times. We would normally drop patients off on one of the carriers. The carriers would then send their critical patients back with us to the Comfort and then we’d head back to Killick again. It was non-stop all day.

Fueling was so fast and efficient we just kept bumping it back to 1200 pounds and never had to stress the fuel limits unlike most of this last week.
(Right: PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti – Coast Guard Petty Officer Gustavo Albaladejo, a flight engineer for Coast Guard Air Station Clearwater, Fla., provides hearing protection to Haitian Americans prior to an air evacuation to Homestead, Fla., on Jan. 20, 2010. One of the United States key missions is to evacuate U.S. citizen from earthquake-torn Haiti via Coast Guard C-130 flights. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Brandon Blackwell.)
Some of the things that I remember are sitting in the LZ and feeling the aircraft suddenly kick. I thought we ate something with the tail rotor or an unannounced helicopter had landed behind us in the LZ. Lt. j.g. David Janney made a couple control inputs to confirm we were ok then we realized it wasn’t us, it was the earth moving again. AET2 Duane Zitta was astonished, as he was out coordinating patients when it hit and had that reaction ‘what was that.’ Of course, the guys at the LZ said it happens all the time here.

Half our riders were children with broken legs, broken arms, scratches and bruises. Many were just babies. One mom just handed her baby to AET2 Zitta as though she had total trust in him. AET2 Zitta had another three year old that he carried across the Comfort flight deck that just wrapped legs and arms all around him. I thought that child wasn’t going to let go. AET2 Zitta was so impressed with the Haitian people. He said they are all strangers but they immediately reached out to comfort and hold each other during the short flights.

(Left: PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti – Crews from the Coast Guard Cutters Tahoma and Mohawk evacuate Haitian refugees, some critically injured, from a makeshift clinic at a Haitian Coast Guard Base. The Coast Guard Cutters received additional medical assistance, two doctors and three corpsmen, from the USS Carl Vinson. The additional resources have allowed Coast Guard crews to speed-up the stabilization efforts and movement of those injured. U.S. Coast Guard photo.)


Our last patient of the day was the most critical. We had taken a few people out to the Carl Vinson with the intention of calling it a day. While we were refueling, they asked if we could take a critical patient back to the Comfort. The man was missing part of a leg, and his heart had stopped just moments before they loaded him. A medic was along this time and he tended to the patient to keep his heart going as he wasn’t breathing. The patient had been intubated and Duane [Zitta] bagged him during the seven minute flight back to the Comfort. He was still alive when we passed him along the awaiting crews on the flight deck.

Many, many people have been moved onto Navy ships. So many that they closed the Comfort to only critical-condition patients.”

(Left: PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti – The buoy chain splashes into the water as the crewmembers aboard the Coast Guard Cutter Oak set the second buoy in Port-Au-Prince Thursday, Jan. 21, 2010. The buoy was set to mark safe water as ships approach the APN Main Terminal pier. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Brandyn Hill.)

We even got a note from Fritz Wasco, a civilian and Coast Guard Reservist working on the District Staff, who is currently onboard the Coast Guard Cutter Oak to conduct port assessments in Port-au-Prince:

“We are continuing our assessment of Port-au-Prince (PaP) facilities and are now beginning to evaluate several other smaller port/piers for alternate offload locations. The priorities are understandably water, food, power, fuel and of course reconstitution of the facilities that drive the economy. The days are long, 0700 to 2100 and without much break – (just meals).”
Our hearts and thoughts with all our shipmates still working in the thick of it to provide relief to total strangers. What do you all think of our Coast Guard efforts to help?

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