PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti — Since arriving Oct. 5, U.S. service members assigned to Joint Task Force Matthew have been operating around the clock, providing aid to citizens of western Haiti.
The team has been conducting 24-hour operations at the request of Haiti’s government to support the U.S. Agency for International Development’s disaster relief efforts in the critical early stages of the response.
“USAID requested the unique capabilities of the military because we needed to transport critically needed relief supplies to the affected areas,” said Tim Callaghan, the leader of the USAID Disaster Assistance Response Team. “Because of the airlift they provided, we were able to move food, water and other supplies — things that helped save lives — to communities that needed it most.”
U.S. Southern Command established JTF Matthew under the command of Navy Rear Adm. Cedric Pringle, the deputy director of Joint Interagency Task Force South, to oversee U.S. military efforts in Haiti. To date the JTF has moved more than 480 metric tons of relief supplies to Haitians whose communities were devastated by Hurricane Matthew on Oct. 4 causing more than 1,000 deaths.
“This is an opportunity to make a difference for someone else,” Pringle said.
The task force is comprised of more than 400 military members and 20 aircraft, utilizing assets from all four branches of the military and the U.S. Coast Guard to ensure aid reaches those in need. Supplies such as rice, cooking oil, hygiene kits and medical supplies arrive to an aerial port established by 134 Airmen from the 621st Contingency Response Wing based out of Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst, New Jersey.
“We brought the newly formed Contingency Response Group-Rapid Port Opening Element-Defense Logistics Agency team into an operation for the first time, and we had the right team to make it work,” said Air Force Col. Leslie Maher, the JTF Port Opening commander. “We have been thrilled with the group we have here. From the logistical side of the operation we have been the glue to make things happen.”
The supplies are accounted for and loaded for transport to communities in need. Due to the remote geography of Haiti’s Tiburon Peninsula, the materials are loaded into Army CH-47F Chinook, UH-60 Black Hawk, and Marine Corps CH-53E Super Stallion helicopters for delivery.
“The amount of time, effort and planning that these guys put into this relief operation is astonishing,” said Navy Cmdr. Reggie E. Johnson, the JTF Matthew Future Operations officer. “They are truly making a difference for the people of Haiti who were most impacted — it was a rapid response with results.”
The task force will continue to support USAID as necessary.