Remaining 823rd ESFS forces in Haiti: The last 31

  • Published
  • By Tech. Sgt. Matthew Downey
  • 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.

"Volunteers to stay until the end" was the title of the box placed in front of the 823rd Expeditionary Security Forces Squadron Tactical Operations Center on Feb. 22.

The box was placed there by Maj. Tyrell Mayfield, 823rd ESFS squadron commander, and his intent was to match the Airmen's desires with the mission requirements at Toussaint L'Ouverture International Airport.

These volunteers did not know how long they were volunteering for, nor did they know where the mission would take them, yet they were happy to do it. They filled out the letters stating they wanted to stay to the end and dropped them into the box. Within the first day, the box was filled with more than enough names to satisfy the mission.

The NCOs of the 823rd ESFS led our Airmen by being some of the first to volunteer. It was no surprise to squadron leadership that NCOs in the unit overwhelmingly volunteered to support and lead our Airmen for the remainder of the deployment. Their enthusiasm and dedication was the driving factor in the successful collection of the young Airman volunteers.

When the unit first arrived, it was overwhelming to witness the amount of support the Haitians needed. Within a few short days, every aspect of the airfield within the Air Force's control provided a secure working environment for the Department of Defense, nongovernmental organizations, partner nations and the Haitian Airport Authority.

The junior Airmen operated the entry control points and the NCOs and officers worked side by side with them, leading the force from vehicles, the radio and on foot.

As days rolled by, the unit's security mission stayed the same but required less manpower. The airport was no longer vital to humanitarian operations, but maintained its status as the main symbol for Haitian stability.

Slowly our unit began to hand off security responsibilities to the Haitians, one of which included a fully functional Haitian-operated pass and identification office. Originally this office only functioned because of the efforts of two handpicked security forces Airmen.

After a lot of patience and hard work, these Airmen trained effective host nation counterparts who ultimately took back their responsibilities. This office's life cycle was indicative of the struggles and triumphs with many of their unit's responsibilities being handed back over to Haitian authorities.

As the mission progressed, it was obvious that the need for all the "Jesters" was no longer necessary. Leadership prioritized the unit's manning and started creating redeployment chalks based on the box of volunteers. In total, the unit was broken into four chalks with the final chalk labeled as "until the end."

In the first two weeks of March, the unit sent most of it members back to Moody. Of the original 184 Moody warriors tasked to secure the only operating international airport in Haiti, only 34 were needed to complete the mission.

The remaining 34 Airmen watched as the rest of the squadron redeployed safely but always maintained professionalism and vigilance. The day after watching their fellow Airmen leave, they attended guard mount, loaded their weapons and took their posts without regret or hesitation. However, I am sure these Airmen are missing their families and wished they were home, but know their support is needed here in Haiti.

The mission in Haiti is still not complete. The immediate crisis of the earthquake has passed but new challenges wait. In a combined effort, the Department of Defense, United States Agency for International Development, United Nations and countless other nongovernmental organizations met the urgent need for food, water, medical supplies and logistical support that was required to save countless lives.

Now the mission has shifted. With the rainy season quickly approaching, our resources and personnel are dedicated to relocating the internally displaced persons of Haiti to interim camps where they can safely pass the coming months.

Every day the situation in Haiti improves with the help of thousands of willing hands. As the three Jesters of the last chalk stepped onto the waiting aircraft, we looked over our shoulders and saw the embodiment of "service before self." We saw willing hands and volunteers who would stay until the end-the last 31.