PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti -- Marines and Sailors here supporting Combined Joint Task Force – Haiti provided medical assistance to residents in the Bel-Air district March 26 and 27.
Lima Company, 3rd Battalion, 8th Marine Regiment conducted a two-day Medical Capabilities exercise here to build trust and security within the community.
“Over the past 20-plus days, criminal activities have decreased as a result of the Marines’ presence here,” said Capt. Kevin E. Clark, Lima Company commander. “Still we get reports of gang violence, criminal activities and illegal weapons in the Bel-Air and San Martin Districts.
“Because of this,” the Smithville, Mo. native continued, “the past few days we have focused our efforts on winning the support of the people in these areas through humanitarian assistance operations.”
These operations have included the distribution of over 3,500 gallons of water, clearing trash from the city streets and the medical treatment of 450 residents during the two-day operation.
“So far we have been very successful in winning support, while at the same time collecting information from people about criminal activities as well as informing them about the purpose of our presence,” Clark explained.
“When the American forces first arrived there were negative messages being spread about them over the radio,” said John Wiss Mathieu, a resident of Bel-Air. “A lot of people would see the Americans and run and hide because of what was being said.
“Now we see that it is the complete opposite,” he continued. “We now see that the Americans are here to establish peace and security in our country. They are here for us.”
Together with the Haitian National Police, Army Pyschological Operations Team as well as Human Exploitation Team, Clark said that they were able to project a positive image of the Multi-national forces.
According to Clark, he wants to show how the Multi-national Interim Force can be a great friend to the Haitian people and a strong ally against gangs and criminals.
“We do this by conducting the humanitarian assistance and presence patrols during the day and contact patrols and traffic checkpoints at night,” he explained.
Presence patrols allow the Marines to interact with the local residents by shaking hands, meeting and talking with people.
According to Clark, this allows the Marines to show residents they are part of their community and how information they give will be used to benefit the community.
Aggressive contact patrolling allows the Marines to counter activities of criminals and gangs that roam the streets at night as well as conduct traffic checkpoints to get illegal weapons and drugs off the street.
“We are definitely more on edge at night,” Clark explained. “Especially after one of our Marines were wounded.”
The Marines were not expecting the large number that turned out at the Medical Capabilities Exercise.
“We expected more of a turnout at the water distribution vice here,” Clark said. “We had to incorporate our Combat Lifesavers, former army medics and any translator available to include those from the Haitian National Police as well as translators from international journalists on site.”
The biggest challenge, according to Petty Officer 1st Class Benjamin P. Hebert, an independent corpsman with 3rd Battalion, 8th Marines, is the problems that the multinational forces can’t fix.
“We lack the resources to treat high blood pressure and cardiac problems,” he explained.
“We can also give them immediate help here, but once they go home their lifestyle hasn’t changed.”
This is a concern for many of the residents that came to the Medical Capabilities Exercise.
“If there was a clinic like this to go to every few days it would help,” explained Vivian Malvoision, a Bel-Air resident whose family was treated at the exercise. “It is a really good thing that the Americans are doing this. As a people, Haitians have to start practicing getting back into good health. The pollution that we live in though is hard on the adults and even harder on the children.
“We first thought the Americans were here to help us with the famine problem,” she continued. “Many children are starving and dieing of hunger. This medical aspect is good if not better though, because it is so expensive to get medical attention.”
With the unemployment rate up around 75 percent, the community has little or to no resources for expensive medical treatment.
“I am a single mother of two kids and a very sickly woman,” Magaret Cineas of Bel-Air said. “I can’t get medical attention without coming to a place like this. I don’t have a job and there is none to get. There is no work at all to get.
“Special clinics need to be setup with medical aid for the community. This goes for the majority of Haiti.”
The personnel at the Medical Capabilities Exercise treated burns, infections, minor cuts and rashes.
During the second day of the exercise they saw two extreme cases. One was a case of third degree burns over the upper portion of an 18-year-old girl’s legs and the other was a infected stab wound.
“The toughest part was seeing little kids hurt,” said Lance Cpl. Brandon M. Hooley, a mortarman and combat lifesaver with Lima Company.
The Shipshewana, Ind. native continued, “One kid had dead skin from his knees to his ankles caused by burns. After we cleaned up his legs and bandaged them, he went right back to playing with his friends.
“These people are extremely tough and resilient.”
The members of the Multi-national Interim Force hope that the people will see what is being done and assist the forces in providing them with a better life.
“I want the Haitian people to know we are here to support them,” Clark explained. “We can do this better if they give us the location of the bad guys and the weapons.”