Through the Fence: One Airman’s Perspective

  • Published
  • By Master Sgt. Ed James
  • 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.

If readers have kept abreast of recent articles submitted by members of the 823rd Expeditionary Security Forces Squadron, they have read the operational and personal aspects of our deployment to Haiti.

I thought an article with a personal view of life would be appropriate, to stop and think of our lives and how we may take our daily conveniences for granted. At the time of this writing, our squadron has been on the ground for more than 60 days supporting Operation UNIFIED RESPONSE and has afforded a safe and secure environment for relief agencies and sister services to distribute aide.

"Meesta, meesta ... food, food," shouted the young Haitian children from the other side of chain linked fence as I conducted a perimeter check of the airport. It was something we heard often. However, Joint Task Force- Haiti policy prohibits us from distributing food as individuals to the locals through the fence or from any other point at Toussaint L'Ouverture International Airport.

As difficult as this may be, it ensures that food is distributed at designated, controlled sites where it is needed most and supports the overall humanitarian effort here in Haiti. Food distribution has been well organized and coordinated fully with the United Nations and nongovernmental organizations with U.S. forces often providing a secure environment for its distribution.

As I drove the perimeter I noticed the children, standing in the dust and dirt with chickens scratching about them as they reached through the two-inch diamond shapes of the chain link fence with little hands opening and closing to clutch anything I might hand them.

My initial response to this is to wave, say hello and continue driving. A bit further along the perimeter I could not help but to stop and reflect for a minute on my life and the opportunities that being an American citizen presents me without even having to ask, let alone reach through a fence.

As much as I would like to provide them with something, I realize it would detract from the effectiveness of the ongoing humanitarian efforts by the UN and NGOs. In my opinion, this made me think about what great opportunities we have as Americans without ever having to reach through a fence. Is it possible we as Americans often do not fully realize what we currently possess?

How many times a day do we reach for things on the other side of our own personal fence and complain when we are unable to attain them? Day to day throughout our lives we, as American citizens, grasp for nonessential material items for which we have no immediate need.

We are undaunted in our attempts to fulfill our perceived needs and desires by any means necessary. We live in a country that affords and caters to practically every individual's personal desires. If we cannot reach our "desires" because of a "fence," we simply reach elsewhere.

Our pursuit of wants in life often overshadows what we currently possess; blessings and opportunities that we easily take for granted. Comparison: the kids reached because they know the military and other agencies issue substance; we reach for material wants or gratification, not life-sustaining materials. From a personal viewpoint, I believe we each need to stop for a few minutes and think about the "desires" we have and the "fences" we face.

I have deployed to several locations in southwest Asia, all fulfilling a different mission requiring a mindset completely different than what is required for this humanitarian assistance mission. Here in Haiti there are no threats of hostilities, improvised explosive devices, suicide bombers, rockets or mortars.

With our minds clear of those constant threats, we are able to see firsthand the devastation that was brought on this country. In a country that is one of the poorest in the Western hemisphere, human needs are still human needs.

Our country, regardless of economic crisis, housing issues, etc., etc., we are afforded opportunities to acquire our wants and needs, be it a necessity or not, to continue daily life. But in the meantime while we extend our arm through the fence and past the opportunities we have, perhaps we should stop and visualize kids reaching through the chain link fence asking for food.

After picturing this image, we should be grateful for what is provided for us and thankful to live in a country which affords the conveniences we take for granted each day.