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An Old Soldiers Thoughts On Disaster Assistance

Updated on January 17, 2010
Humanitarian Service Medal
Humanitarian Service Medal

The current disaster in Haiti has sparked many thoughts and emotions for me. I am an Old Soldier, who has done but his duty for 22 years in the Army, and then 4 years and 8 months in Iraq as a contractor. As a soldier you spend a lifetime training to do, or support, two simple things, “Kill People and Break Things”. That’s what Armies do when you break it down to the essentials. Yet there is a mission that comes up every so often that gives us all a momentary pause for a wry smile before returning to the passive face of determination and focus on accomplishing the mission at hand.

That mission in the military is known as HRO or Humanitarian Relief Operations. The wry smile mentioned is the recognition that it is one of the things we do, that is counterintuitive to everything you train for, but you know you are the still the best qualified to do it. It is only momentary because you can imagine the horror that those you are about to help have endured and you must steel your heart and be prepared to continue your duty when others would be overwhelmed by magnitude of suffering, destruction, and loss.

During Hurricane Andrew, I received a call from my Platoon leader on Friday night while the Eye of Hurricane Andrew was still over the Everglades in Florida. He issued me an alert order to began preparation for deployment to southern Florida with the tactical Air Traffic Control Platoon and that I would act as Operations NCO, his guidance was “Sergeant Ellis, grab your ruck the Advance Party leaves in three hours from the Motor Pool.” This guidance meant I had one hour to get to my office and organize and gather the operational supplies I would need for the 6-24 hrs we would be ahead of the rest of the Platoon, pack up my field desk and get it to the Motor Pool. So twenty minutes later I kissed my Zena goodbye again, and headed out the door.

Now this is not a story about recounting minute by minute or even day by day our operations there; that is a part of history and has been recounted many many times. But there is the story of what we saw traveling I-95 southbound towards Miami. Starting just south of Jacksonville every so often we would see out in the meridian of the Highway, some one with a flag and a sign, most often the sign would have but two simple words, and thinking about it brings tears to my eyes even as I write this today “Thank You”. Every time we stopped along the way for gas or food, The folks would ask one question, “Are you Headed for Miami?” When we said yes we would get handshakes and hugs, and no money would be taken.

Soldiers wear the badges,ribbons and medals they've earned on their dress uniforms, we call it our ‘Board’. If you have been in combat, you sometimes get medals for things you did under difficult circumstances, and for these you look at your board and your outlook on medals is “They have pinned a reminder on my chest about a day I will spend my lifetime trying to forget.” During peacetime you get some fond memories about service or accomplishments that were recognized by your superiors, But there in the middle of my board, stands my most cherished medal, The Humanitarian Service Medal. The medal that lets you remember the days when you were a welcome site, and you got to ask the greatest and best question a soldier ever gets to ask “What can I do to help?”

God Bless The Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen, and Marines now engaged on what will certainly be the greatest Humanitarian Service Effort ever conducted. For the people of Haiti, I say Hold On!! Help is on the way! God help you now in these times of sorrow and need. I pray he gives you strength to see these times through and with this strength emerge from the rubble and destruction to build a better stronger place. God Bless and keep you all.

A Personal Note

I will be heading to my local Red Cross to begin Disaster Assistance Training today. I will be reporting back on this in future hubs. I do not think at this point that I will get to Haiti to assist as initial inquiries indicate only money is requested at this point. So I will prepare for the next one but if the situation changes or if any one knows an organization that needs the help of an old soldier multi skilled in logistics, contingency operations, and Camp establishment and management or as a liaison to the military for your NGO organization. Contact me by email through his site. I am available for immediate deployment.


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    • Hmrjmr1 profile image

      Hmrjmr1 7 years ago from Georgia, USA

      Al - There is a satisfaction that just can not be compared to anything else on the planet. BTW - You can call me anything but late for chow! Thanks again for your service and that of your family as well.

    • Al Blondin profile image

      Al Blondin 7 years ago from Colorado Springs, Colorado USA

      Hi Hmrjmr1, or can I call you Sarge?

      I've been checking out your Hubs since you stopped by to visit mine. This brought back memories. As you saw in my pictures, I was there among the misery and since our work details were led by specialists and volunteers from any rank, all sailors got their hands dirty, from Ordinary Seamen to Commanders, we all pitched in. In spite of the terrible things we saw, smelled, heard and touched, most agreed that, in the end, it was the most satisfying mission they had ever participated in. Makes us proud to be servants of our country, extending a hand in time of great need.

    • H P Roychoudhury profile image

      H P Roychoudhury 8 years ago from Guwahati, India

      A great hub of a great soldier. Thanks for sharing.

    • Hmrjmr1 profile image

      Hmrjmr1 8 years ago from Georgia, USA

      CJV- Dittos to you and yours our families serve by our side, And so true about the IRC and ARC, they are the best! GBY!

    • cjv123 profile image

      Carol 8 years ago from Michigan

      What an uplifting Hub - and SO true! My husband has deployed for HSE twice in his career - Somalia and Hurricane Andrew. And my husband said both times - one of the top three organizations that was so organized and was actually helpful was the Red Cross and that's why we always donate. Great, great Hub and thanks once again for your dedicated service! You are a true Patriot!

    • Hmrjmr1 profile image

      Hmrjmr1 8 years ago from Georgia, USA

      50 cal Thanks Lad and for the SAR work you do, I join you in your prayer...GBY my friend.

    • 50 Caliber profile image

      50 Caliber 8 years ago from Arizona

      I still roll with local SARs in the desert regions, a small task when held against a mission like the one our soldiers and the Red Cross face in Haiti. Any of these situations have a mark it leaves that you don't get over, you just learn to live with it. My SARs events have happy endings a lot of the time and the question is alive or dead. Haiti is a given going in of dead strewn all around you, like you, been there done that, not interested in the t shirt. My heart goes out to the victims and to the people charged with helping hands on in the midst of the stench of death that will arise from the rubble. Most folks have been blessed with never having seen the likes much less experienced the circle of sensory reactions to death on the scale that will be present in Haiti. May God be with one and all in this venture. Pray for them all.

    • Hmrjmr1 profile image

      Hmrjmr1 8 years ago from Georgia, USA

      RTE - God Bless Him and you're right Mom's and Wives always know, it's a 'female' thing! Hooah and God Bless 'em.

      amulets Much Thanks !

      CM- Thanks Lad and Follow Me! Sign up for yor Local RC Disaster Assistance Team, We can do our training together in different locales! Hoooah!

    • carolina muscle profile image

      carolina muscle 8 years ago from Charlotte, North Carolina

      Kudos, buddy... good luck with your training!!!

    • amulets profile image

      amulets 8 years ago from Singapore

      It is always great to lending a helping hand. It will create good Karma and merits for yourself and your children down in generations.

    • readytoescape profile image

      readytoescape 8 years ago from Central Florida


      Great Hub, Thought you’d like to know our Son got that “guidance” call Wednesday at lunchtime 10 minutes later my wife got a quick “just called to tell you I love you, gotta go pack.”

      He was on the ground in Haiti that night.

      If you go to the article we're pretty sure our son is the one standing in the background of pic 1. Hard to tell with the gear, but I'm told mom's know.

    • Hmrjmr1 profile image

      Hmrjmr1 8 years ago from Georgia, USA

      Salt - that is good advice for all trauma victims, be it natural disaster, war or others, my similar philosophy has been "when God wants you home, You're Going! till then he's got something for ya to do!... thanks for stopping by and your comment! GBY!

    • salt profile image

      salt 8 years ago from australia

      Wonderful. My father used to work at alot of disasters, usually much smaller in magnitude, like train crashes and cyclones, I wonder, after the clean up do people get on with life? Are in areas like haiti, where there was alot of poverty, improved for those that survive?

      I remember after something happened to me personally and the best thing someone told me was, dear, you never get over it, you just get on with it. Those words turned my feelings around. I didnt have to get over it, the pressure to get over the past was gone and I found I survived and have in some context got over it by letting go of having to ...

      I havent been in Haiti thought, and I wish love and blessings to all who are there!!!

    • Hmrjmr1 profile image

      Hmrjmr1 8 years ago from Georgia, USA

      And you Habee much Thanks! GBY

    • habee profile image

      Holle Abee 8 years ago from Georgia

      John, this hub warms my heart. As divided as we are right now as a nation, we still come together as Americans to help others. God bless you!

    • Hmrjmr1 profile image

      Hmrjmr1 8 years ago from Georgia, USA

      Tom, Ralwrus, Bpop, SimeyC, loreli, and Pam, - thank you for your kind words and thoughts, an ever better thanks would be to give if you can to the IRC or ARC, and even better contact your local Red Cross and find out how you can learn to help on their local Disaster or the National Disaster Teams. When you see your duty and you do it, there is no other thanks necessary; but they are all appreciated.

      To Others who may comment here, be advised, this is not about thanking me, or a political forum. The ARC needs all kinds of folks, and their are many many ways to give...GBY if you do, and GBY if you can't...JHE (Hmrjmr1)

    • Pamela99 profile image

      Pamela Oglesby 8 years ago from United States

      Hmrjmr, I know you have seen unspeakable atrocities with that many years of service, but you still have a heart to serve your fellowman. We need men and women like you as you are a true hero.

    • lorlie6 profile image

      Laurel Rogers 8 years ago from Bishop, Ca

      The HRO you mentioned is such a wonderful, though, as you said, counterintuitive, part of the military. I am so in awe of the situations soldiers must face, it astounds me.

      Thank you, Hmrjmr, for your ongoing service.

    • SimeyC profile image

      Simon Cook 8 years ago from NJ, USA

      Thank you for sharing - it's great to see our country (US, UK etc) using their resources to help out - and it's even better to see our military heros for once get the accolades they deserve. Thank you for your service...

    • breakfastpop profile image

      breakfastpop 8 years ago

      Good morning Hmrjmr,

      Your hub is brilliant and heartfelt and I am not surprised at all that you will have a hands on role in this disaster. I have nothing but flat out admiration for you. You are one of a kind, Hmr.

    • profile image

      ralwus 8 years ago

      Great hub Big John! I commend you and thank you for your service to me as well as mankind. These terrible times bring out the very best of America and her people.

    • Tom Whitworth profile image

      Tom Whitworth 8 years ago from Moundsville, WV


      This is an entirely worthy mission. These poor people in Hatii have suffered way too much throughout their history. I said a special prayer for them last night.