130 days, give or take

  • Published
  • By Maj. Tyrell Mayfield
  • 823rd Expeditionary Security Forces Squadron
This has been a long deployment. Calendar wise it wasn't too bad--130 days give or take.

However, as we all learned quickly, time in Haiti is relative. The time away from home and family has been compounded by heat, dust, long work days, rain, boredom, sunburn, chaos, mosquitoes and the often undefined work environment that we were cast into.

Coordinating the efforts of at least six U.S. Government agencies and Haitian government entities at the tactical and operational level was no small challenge.

For weeks we were busy dealing with thousands of overstressed American citizens who just want to go home, Haitian citizens who were in desperate need of assistance, and a clearly overwhelmed airport and its staff members, but we endured.

We didn't experience these stressors one at a time. They came in pairs, in groups and at times in waves which seemed overwhelming. We tackled them individually, constantly reprioritizing and shifting from target to target.

We handled some issues, while others required assistance and the toughest ones required weeks of coordination, collaboration and effort on the part of countless agencies and organizations.

Our Airmen carried through admirably to say the least. I am proud of every one of them because we did everything that was asked and required of us.

There were weeks when we didn't do much and there were days when we did a week's work in an afternoon, but that's always the case on any deployment.

There were small comforts such as fresh fruit and watching the sun set while eating dinner with friends on the end of the runway.

There were setbacks too such as getting extended for 45 days after sending a large portion of our unit back home or watching an Airman get medically evacuated.
Then, there are the bittersweet comforts like identifying the remains of American servicemen and repatriating them with dignity and honor.

We learned a lot about ourselves and each other. We learned about the needs of the Haitian people, about the limits of human suffering and the capacity of people to help.
The Airmen who served their time in Haiti witnessed many things on this deployment.

Most of our work was confined to the six square miles of the airport and at times it is difficult to see beyond the ramp. It may have been more rewarding to actually be there handing out food, tarps or aid kits.

If you're looking for a final conclusion to this effort, a statistic, a chart or a green dot on a PowerPoint slide you won't find it here in this article.

I've seen enough of those in the last 130 days to last a lifetime. I don't think what we accomplished here in Haiti is done justice when you try and measure it. In the end I think that the effort to quantify help eventually boils down to meaningless numbers.

This deployment was a huge opportunity for me personally and professionally.

I hope that it was for the Airmen associated with it as well. Stepping off the C-17 onto the ramp that first night in January with a squadron behind me is a memory that I'll always have.

Knowing that we contributed to saving thousands of lives and improving the lives of countless more is something that we're all responsible for and is a comfort.

We all traded something for our time here. We traded birthdays, anniversaries, being there for the deaths of loved ones, quiet nights at home, baseball games, graduations and we traded days off of the calendars of our own lives. They were not traded and lost. We traded them for an education on how to endure, to perform, to learn, to do the best we could and to help.

While our efforts here in Haiti have come to a close, what we do with our education and this experience is what matters next.