Answering the call: Special Tactics Airmen conclude Haiti earthquake relief efforts

  • Published
  • By Capt. Alejandra Fontalvo
  • 24th Special Operations Wing

           Special Tactics Airmen assigned to the 24th Special Operations Wing concluded their response to augment humanitarian aid efforts in Haiti on Sept. 2, 2021 following a 7.2 magnitude earthquake, which hit the country Aug. 14.

            The Special Tactics Airmen were alerted on the morning of Aug. 16 that they would augment Joint Task Force-Haiti relief efforts. With the help of  C-146A Wolfhound aircrews, assigned to the 492nd and 919th Special Operations Wings, the team touched down in Port Au Prince, Haiti within 36 hours.

            “We landed at Port Au Prince and were pretty removed from the epicenter of the earthquake, but once we got out to certain areas that had been cut off by the earthquake and seeing the MEDEVAC patients coming in at Port Au Prince that were suffering from crush definitely hit home,” said the Special Tactics Officer and lead for the ST response team. “It peaked our awareness for the severity of the situation and need for assistance. It made us eager to get out to the landing zones for us to start doing our part and hopefully establish an airfield so we could bring out more supplies to those people.”

            The Special Tactics team, consisting of five combat controllers and one pararescueman, were primarily responsible for surveying Jeremie and Les Cayes airfields for suitability of landing fixed wing aircraft. The airfields were located in parts of the country that had been cut off by landslides and damaged roads from a storm following the earthquake. The operators quickly assessed the landing zones, conducted a proof of concept by successfully landing a C-146A at one of the airfields and made recommendations to JTF-Haiti. However, while performing this task, the Special Tactics team was strategically positioned and equipped to assist in an emergency scenario.

            “While we were conducting our survey at Les Cayes, some [non-government organization] members came up to us and mentioned there were some patients a 10 minute flight away in the mountains,” said the STO. “There were two children with crush injuries that needed to get medical attention immediately and we were able to dynamically task our forces at that survey site to coordinate with JTF-Haiti, the aircrew and work with the NGO to find the exact location of those patients and evacuate them to a higher level of care.”

            In addition to being positioned and ready for medical evacuations, the team worked to assist Haitian air traffic controllers providing advisory calls in different areas and assisted with deliveries of humanitarian aid supplies in more than 10 remote locations across the country.

            “You see the kids running up and obviously they’re excited to see you and to see the U.S. military because they know we’re going to help,” said the STO. “I’m super thankful for the opportunity and proud that my team was a part of it and that we were able to do a multitude of things to help get the aid and supplies needed to the people of Haiti.”

            The humanitarian mission also served as a training opportunity for the team in interoperability and how to collaborate with several organizations trying to achieve the same goal by maximizing everyone’s capabilities.

            “It was a very educational experience working alongside not only joint partners from the DOD, as well as USAID, the lead agency for the relief efforts,” said the STO. “We got to learn what they did and they got to learn what we do. The big takeaway for Special Tactics is our flexibility and the different capabilities we bring to a problem set like humanitarian aid disaster relief. We were there to conduct surveys and were prepared to establish airfields, receive aircraft, land them and deliver supplies in an expeditious manner. When circumstances changed, we were able to conduct a MEDEVAC as well as go out alongside other entities and help facilitate their mission using our tools and capabilities. We were able to be pretty dynamic.”

            In recent years, Special Tactics Airmen alongside other Air Force Special Operations Command units have responded to several natural disasters including Hurricanes Eta and Iota in Honduras, Hurricane Michael in Florida and Hurricane Katrina in Louisiana.

             Special Tactics Airmen train constantly to execute global access, precision strike, personnel recovery and battlefield surgery operations across the spectrum of conflict and crisis. As experts in air-ground integration, ST Airmen have the ability to assess, open, and control major airfields to clandestine dirt strips as well as lead complex rescue operations in any environment.