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Haiti answering the call on and off duty...

  • Published
  • By Tech. Sgt. Stacy Gault
  • 171st Public Affair
     Whether they are called upon by government officials or voluntarily help a neighbor, guard members can't sit by and watch; national guardsmen always find their way to a disaster.
     When a catastrophic earthquake hit our neighbors to the south in Haiti, two members of the 171st Air Refueling Wing offered their help serving in different capacities: one was on duty and other was not.
    Tech. Sgt. Jerry Scurlock is a traditional guardsman with the 258th Air Traffic Control Squadron in Johnstown, Pa., he served with the 260th ATCS of Pease, New Hampshire because they needed more airmen for the operation.
    Leaving for Haiti on a C-130 at the end of January, Scurlock wasn't sure what to expect once he got to the country, but expected to be busy and operate in austere conditions.
    "In my 20-plus years of aviation experience, I have never seen that kind [amount] of traffic.," Scurlock said. The controllers used a 1970's camper converted into a control tower donated by the Federal Aviation Association because the earthquake destroyed the previous tower.
     The team incorporated the control tower with the existing non-radar equipment that was used before the earthquake. According to Scurlock, military controllers are required to learn how to use the non-radar equipment in their training, but civilian airports in the U.S. haven't used it since the 1930's. Working 12-hour days, seven days a week, Scurlock dealt with all types of aircraft.
    "We had everything from the big 474 landing down to the open-cockpit tail dragger," he said.
     The controllers lived in the same conditions the Haitians had. Tight-quartered tents, MRE's and one shower tent for 1,000 people made for rough living conditions, but Scurlock said the sacrifice was worth the opportunity to help the hundreds of thousands of people they did.
     Another unit member saw an opportunity as a civilian to help the Haitians and jumped at the chance. Lt. Col. Bryan O'Neill, 147th Air Refueling Squadron, accompanied a group of friends who chartered an airplane to deliver volunteers and medical supplies donated by local companies. O'Neill served as a "military translator" for the group by working with the active duty military at the airport because he understood military terms and procedures.
     "Here was a group of guys from Sewickley (Pittsburgh) who got together and said we want to do something for Haiti and literally pulled their resources and pulled guys from different specialties, put them all together and did something good," O'Neill said.
In their first trip, O'Neill's group took a group of doctors and nurses to Haiti to volunteer their services in the aftermath. On the return flight, 102 orphans adopted by American families boarded the plane and flown to the US. O'Neill enjoyed spending time with the orphans and the feeling was reciprocal.
     "One little boy looked up at me and asked if I would be his daddy," O'Neill said, "I would have taken him home in a second but I reassured him that he had another daddy waiting for him."
     Leaving thousands of pounds of supplies in Pittsburgh that wouldn't fit on the first trip, the group took a second trip where they delivered $15 million of medicine, which O'Neill said would be enough for three years of surgeries in the whole country.
     Volunteer agents from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives agency guarded the morphine and other drugs on the plane. Then were passed on to a team of doctors accompanied by Marine Rifle Teams to deliver the drugs to four different hospitals in Port au Prince, ensuring the narcotics made it to the patients that needed them.
    They also used the second trip as an opportunity to give a ride home to 40 Americans and a rescue dog named Smokey that were helping in the earthquake disaster.
    Though both Scurlock and O'Neill had very different experiences, they both came away a similar observation. Haitians are very giving to others.
O'Neill observed the orphans sharing their meals with each other during the flight home. He said for kids, who are normally starving and get so little food, to offer it up to someone else was heartwarming.
     "The Haitian people are surprisingly generous with what little they have. They don't have much, but what they do have they are glad to share," Scurlock said.