CARIBBEAN SEA – A massive U.S. military operation from the air, sea and land is underway to help thousands of Haitians following a devastating earthquake. The powerful quake on August 14 flattened homes and buildings, leaving hundreds dead and many others missing.
“A lot of displaced folks, a lot of damaged homes they’re not able to get to,” said Capt. Eric Kellum, the Commanding Officer of the USS Arlington. “A lot of folks don’t have great access to food or water.”
Joint Task Force-Haiti has so far saved or assisted more than 420 people and has delivered more than 136,000 pounds of aid - including water, food and rescue equipment - to those in desperate need.
The Helicopter Sea Combat Squadron (HSC) 26 is one of two choppers on the USS Arlington helping to transport life-saving supplies and equipment to some of the hardest hit areas on the island where many roads are virtually impassable.
“I’ve got a huge flight deck, so basically helicopters land on us; we refuel them so they can go in country to remote areas to drop off aid,” Kellum said.
The ship left Naval Station Norfolk one week ago. It arrived in Haiti on Saturday, August 21, nearly a day behind schedule after Henri forced the Arlington to take a different course.
“We had to move our track to the west closer to the coast, which lost us several hours, avoiding that hurricane,” Kellum said. “We’re here now. We’re getting established and making sure we all talk to each other and making sure we understand where the real need is and how we can help the effort for the Haitians.”
This is Kellum’s third humanitarian mission in 27 years.
“I've done all kinds of really neat things that I'm proud of,” he said. “I love the United States Navy, but when I got orders to do this – the orders said specifically, 'deployed for Joint Task Force-Haiti to help USAID to save lives and ease suffering.' You can't really do better than that as far as a valuable and worthwhile mission to save lives and suffering, so [that's] pretty awesome.”
The disaster comes at a time of crisis for the country that’s been struggling with the COVID-19 pandemic and political uncertainty following the assassination of its president.
Capt. Kellum said the crew is prepared to stay 120 days or as long as they’re needed.
For more information on the mission and pictures, click here.