PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti -- In the scalding noon heat, the wind throws a billowing cloud of dust across the open roadway, blocking all from view.
The air is filled with the musty smell of baked dirt as three battle-clad warriors peer through the ever-swirling dust for vehicles approaching from Port-au-Prince. They stand strong behind a single strand of concertina wire stretched as a barrier across half the road, confident in the knowledge that behind them are a number of Light Armored Vehicles and fellow Marines alert and ready if needed.
Soon the sound of a vehicle approaching drifts through the dust and heat, alerting the Marines.
As if by magic, a bus overflowing with people appears out of the cloud, dust clinging and swirling around it.
A screech keens over the landscape as the driver stomps on the brake pedal upon seeing the Marines and LAVs behind them. The bus jerks forward as its worn brakes grab and release and then grab and releases again, bucking down the road like a bronco ride.
At the concertina, the Marines wave the bus forward to within ten meters of the wire before signaling the driver to stop. Within minutes more vehicles begin appearing and lining up behind the bus.
A small red sports car begins to swing out of the line of stopped cars then immediately stops and reverses back to his position in line after get the full view of the traffic checkpoint ahead.
Two more Marines stand next to a bright yellow sign reading Stop! Arretez! Danger! in red, approximately 100 meters from the first concertina line. Off to their right sits the massive camouflaged hull of an LAV, its 25 mm main gun trained on the roadway.
The LAV’s radio crackles with static as the command element directs the cars to be let through.
The Marines on the ground signal and the cars are waved around the concertina line into a slowing blockade of alternating strands of concertina stretched on either side of the road.
At the sign, one Marine signals the lead bus to turn off into an old customs checkpoint to be searched.
It lumbers around the corner to be directed by more Marines, soon coming to a halt at two cones.
A member of the Haitian National Police accompanied by a Marine, steps on board the bus and explains that they are to get off the bus, form two lines (one male, one female) and that the Marines will search them as well as the contents of the bus.
As the driver pulls out his documents, the passengers on the bus begin to file off. To the surprise of the Marines the buses kaleidoscope paint job wasn’t the only resemblance it had to a circus act.
More and more passengers continue to climb off the bus, to include eight off the roof.
The flow of people slowed to a trickle and ended with nearly 60 commuters to be searched. The Marines first clear the bus. Then a team comprised of members of both the Marines and the Haitian National Police begin its in-depth search.
This was the first time the Marines from Bravo Company, 2d Light Armored Reconnaissance conducted a deliberate traffic checkpoint while deployed in Haiti.
“The checkpoints in the city are much more hasty,” explained Capt. John Ethan Smith, Bravo Company commander. “There is also more opportunity to bypass them in the city. Not to mention you would be choking off the city.
“At this checkpoint we know traffic has to flow through us here,” the Munfordville, Ky. native continued, “there is no bypass.”
According to Smith the location of the checkpoint was perfect for this type of operation. The abandoned customs house sat off the side of the road with two entrances and both a covered and uncovered search station.
This enabled the unit to stop key vehicles as they are identified and pull them in to be searched without hindering the flow of traffic.
Checkpoints like this serve a number of purposes.
Traffic checkpoints consisting only of members of the Mult-national Interim Force search for weapons. Joint checkpoints with Haitian National Police also search for stolen vehicles, according to Col. David H. Berger, 3rd Battalion, 8th Marine Regiment commander.
In this case, there was a third purpose.
“We are also here to gather info,” Smith explained “We have received some information on arms shipments through here, but we didn’t have much information on the area.
“The value of this checkpoint was the people we talked to,” he continued, explaining that they stopped nearly 50 vehicles and 200 people. “We were able to develop the most likely timeline for the criminal activities in the area. We also developed a better awareness of what types of activities are going on outside Port-au-Prince in terms of business and reaction.
“The bus system is back up and running, enabling some recreational activities. This shows us that the economy is getting better.
This operation was a success in another way as well.
“It was a success in terms of integrating the Haitian National Police into our operation,” Smith explained.
“We have a better assessment of their capabilities outside of the city,” he continued. “They have very limited radio capabilities, a single telephone line and limited weapons as well as no handcuffs.
“We were impressed by how professional the HNP outside of the city was. They were eager to learn the techniques we use in conducting searches.”
Not only did Bravo Company get to assess both the area and the HNP, they also were able to assess the mood of the people of Haiti that they were stopping through the use of a Marine of Haitian decent.
“The majority of the people we stopped said they loved the work we are doing,” explained Lance Cpl. Roudy Guerrier, a personal effects clerk that volunteered to deploy to Haiti as a translator. “It makes them feel safe.
“They also said they don’t mind us stopping them,” the Port-au-Prince native continued. “They know we are here to help them.”
According to 31-year-old Guerrier, the Haitian people have a firm belief in the American forces here.
“They know we are here to make a change for the better,” he explained. “They know that we are about justice. They also know that wherever we go, we bring peace and security.
“The Haitian people believe that men like us is what makes America a great country.”
As traffic through the area begins to let up, the Marines begin to close up shop. Concertina wire is re-rolled and stowed, signs are secured and the warriors mount up.
An air of excitement, accomplishment and pride resonate from the sun-beaten Marines as their vehicles begin the eight-mile trek back to their base camp in Port-au-Prince.