Tuesday, March 23, 2010

"I did not have much time to prepare for what I was getting myself into"

A friend of mine who is still in the Canadian military just returned from Haiti, where he was part of our relief effort. I asked him if he could briefly share his story and this is what he provided: (edited for clarity)

"What I can say? This tour came fast and furious and I did not have much time to prepare for what I was getting myself into. I had less than 24 hours once I new I was confirmed as to getting on plane to an "austere" environment. I was not sure what exactly that word meant and had no real idea what I should pack (in other words: gas mask or blue jeans).

I was there for 44 days and ate IMPs (individual meal packs) the whole time. My first week was under the stars as our modular tents had yet to arrive and we had no stoves or fuel for meals. I washed/showered out of a wash basin with bottled water and used baby wipes to clean myself. They wanted 'boots on the ground' and so we arrived before our Communications equipment did. We spent the early part of the tour unloading huge helicopters such as Sea Stallions (US Marines) full of food and water. I was mostly restricted to Jacmel airfield. If you look on Google Earth, you can see our camp setup. VIP visitors included Angelina Jolie, Stephen Harper, CDS (the Chief of Defence Staff) and after I left, Governor General of Canada Michaelle Jean.

Overall the locals very much appreciated Canada's efforts. We got thumbs up everywhere we travelled and I felt no hostility towards us. As we were not staying for the long haul and they wanted our tour to last less than 56 days, we did not make a large footprint. That is why our comforts from home were not a priority. Food and aid to the residents were top priority. Once this stopped, it was time for us to come home.

Getting all of our non-essential kit home had it's challenges as well. The airfield was not long enough to airlift much of our supplies out. So much of our stuff was sent back to Canada by barge. That is the very short version of what happened. It's good to be back home. For my lessons learned, I wished I had brought some books, and munchies and packed lighter. Overall, It was an experience I won't forget for some time, but it already seems like it was so long ago that I was there. I guess Haiti is not in the news much anymore. It will take them MANY years to rebuild."

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