Racers contribute to Haiti relief efforts

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman Ben Sutton
  • 181st IW/PA
This past March, four Airmen from the 181st Intelligence Wing contributed to the relief efforts in Haiti. 1st Lt. Matt Hollowell, Master Sgt. Clint Robinson, Tech. Sgt. Jeff Wernz and Staff Sgt. Kevin Feltner provided intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance support for Operation Unified Response.

The team of Airmen were initially attached to the Army's 82nd Airborne and located at Forward Operating Base Falcon. It was not long before the Air Force Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance Agency absorbed the intelligence team. Originally tasked to observe security personnel movement, the team also assisted in turning over the distribution points to United Nations authorities. With thousands of unfortunate civilians living in tent cities and aftershocks causing more panic and confusion, the Racers immediately began assisting the Haitian government in the recovery and relief efforts.

Many of the Racers have deployed and been on training missions during their military careers; however, this was the first time any of the four engaged in humanitarian efforts. When asked if they would volunteer for similar missions in the future, the response was a unanimous and energetic "Yes!"

The team of intelligence Airmen from the 181st analyzed imagery collected by the RC-26 aircraft assigned to the 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborne Division. The aircraft was used to locate internally displaced personnel that were not observable for the ground, which facilitated ground movement to those sites for assessment and aid. The pilots and crew members of the RC-26 were instrumental in providing support to the humanitarian assistance mission. "When reviewing the aerial imagery, reality really hit in terms of the sheer numbers of Haitians that were displaced due to the earthquake," Robinson said. "With Haiti being a third world country, sometimes it was difficult to determine if the damage to the infrastructure and countryside was caused by the quake or was the normal state of life," said Robinson.

A few of the Airmen were given the opportunity to go outside of the FOB to view some of the devastation in person, and were able to interact with the Haiti citizens. Feltner said the children were very interested in the American military. "They wanted to come up and touch each of us, and they did not seem to be phased by the different style of uniforms", said Feltner. "It was even noted that groups of children would play soccer using empty water bottles for entertainment."

"We eventually assisted in moving them into the settlement camps so that the Haitian authorities had an idea of how many people were actually there." Hollowell said with a look of defeat for the Haitian citizens, "Unfortunately the rainy season was right around the corner and we were called in to assist the government in determining new locations for the tent cities. A lot of the camps were in really bad spots for floods. Due to the thousands of homeless refugees there were tents to count, meals to be given away, and numerous security and sanitation issues."

As the Airmen remembered their efforts in assisting the citizens of Haiti, there was an obvious sense of completion in their hearts. 'Service before self' definitely comes to mind when military members volunteer their time away from their loved ones to help another country in need, a family a need, a child in need. Even though mountains still need to be climbed in terms of the relief efforts, the 181st was able to leave a positive impression on the Haitian government and its citizens through their humanitarian assistance.