Winding down: 823rd ESFS Haiti operations coming to an end

  • Published
  • By Tech. Sgt. Jonothon McGuire
  • 823rd Expeditionary Security Forces Squadron
(Editor's note: This is a part of the weekly submissions from the 823rd Security Forces Squadron, which is currently providing security at the Toussaint L'Ouverture International Airport in Haiti's capital, Port-au-Prince.)

When the 823rd Expeditionary Security Forces Squadron arrived in Haiti, we lined up and marched our way to a small field surrounded by tents, pallets of equipment and supplies. We were then given a quick in-processing brief and told to pull up a patch of grass where we would be sleeping for the night.

The next couple of days were very difficult and stressful. The main gate was overwhelmed with much needed supplies trying to get out through a traffic jammed street. People drove in and out coming and going to their planes and Haitian nationals who were seeking medical attention or jobs lined up outside the gate.

The flightline fared no better. Vehicles weaved in and out between planes. Aircraft parked wherever they could fit and unloaded their supplies wherever that was. People lined up outside the terminal waiting to get on military or charter flights. Haitians hid among the cargo, trying to slip on to outgoing planes. It was a mad house.

At the time we had no showers or laundry facilities. Twenty-six of us were crammed into one small tent. We were rationed on both food and water, but we endured and soon supplies arrived with additional personnel. We brought order to the ramp and traffic became manageable. Within a few short weeks, we brought organization to the chaos.

Soon after, Haitian security started taking over the posts we had manned as we started handing the airport back to them. We stepped back and let the Haitian security guards take over and run the posts as they once had, assisting only when asked or necessary. As the traffic slowed down, we slowly handed back the main gate.

We also assisted them in establishing new pass and I.D. procedures before turning those over as well. When the flightline opened to civilian flights, we turned control of the ramp back over to the Haitian Airport Authority, but continued to man the ramp entry control points and the military side.

Now we only man one entry to the ramp and control only military aircraft, but everyone entering the flightline now knows the established rules and traffic control is much easier. Haitian security now has full security of their assets.

Now there are very few supplies on the airport and most of our squadron has been sent home. At night the mobile patrols rove around looking for unauthorized people on the airport and during the day we secure the few U.S. aircraft that arrive and depart.

The end is in sight. The Canadians and French have all gone home and the U.S. Army camp that used to be right by the main gate is gone. Tents are being taken down around us and every few days more people board aircraft to go home.

I have eaten my last hot meal; the field kitchen is closing down. Soon the showers and laundry facilities will be closing as well. We will be moving into tents with no power or air conditioning once again.

In another couple of days, our living conditions will be exactly as they were when we arrived in January. I look forward to this, because it means we are closer to going home.

The 823rd ESFS will have been in Haiti for approximately four months by the time we leave. We came with nothing but our determination to an overwhelmed airport. We leave with the knowledge that our mission was accomplished and the good people of Haiti are better off for it.

It's time to go home!