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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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