U.S. Carrier Leaves Haiti; Relief Mission Continues
By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Feb. 1, 2010 The release of the U.S. Navy aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson and other military assets from the humanitarian assistance mission in Haiti in no way signals a winding down of U.S. military operations there, Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates told reporters today. Video
“It does not mean the beginning of the end,” Gates said during a news briefing that focused primarily on the fiscal 2011 budget request and 2010 Quadrennial Defense Review. “We anticipate being in Haiti for as long as we are needed, and as long as the president wants us to be there and the Haitians want us to be there.”
U.S. Southern Command announced today that Air Force Gen. Douglas Fraser, its commander, had released USS Carl Vinson from the Operation Unified Response mission it has supported since arriving in Haiti Jan. 15.
Ten of its embarked helicopters will remain with Joint Task Force-Haiti and will continue to support international relief efforts from other U.S. Navy ships operating near the Haitian coast, officials said.
Meanwhile, Fraser also released the guided-missile cruiser USS Bunker Hill and the oceanographic survey ship USNS Henson, among the first Navy ships to join the Vinson in the days immediately after the Jan. 12 earthquake.
Fraser said he also plans to release elements of three Army aviation units, expressing confidence that JTF-Haiti has the resources and personnel needed to assist U.S. Agency for International Development and UN-led relief efforts..
As of today, 19 U.S. Navy, U.S. Coast Guard and U.S. Military Sealift Command ships continue to support the relief effort, and seven additional U.S. military and civilian ships are en route to join them, Southcom reported.
Navy Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, recognized that demand for these assets will diminish as USAID and non-governmental-organization projects evolve. But, the admiral reiterated the U.S. military’s continued commitment in Haiti.
“We will remain in Haiti just as long as we are needed,” Mullen said. “At the request of the Haitian government and in partnership with the U.N. and international community, we will continue to do all that is required to alleviate suffering there.”
Mullen expressed appreciation for the way the U.S. military has stepped up to the mission. “I couldn’t be more proud of the way in which our soldiers, sailors, airmen, Marines and Coast Guardsmen have stepped up to perform this important mission of mercy.”
Fraser echoed Mullen, offered high praise today to the support the vessels leaving Haiti and their crews provided.
"I want to thank the thousands of sailors who steamed toward Haiti in near-record time to help the nation overcome the humanitarian crisis that immediately followed this natural disaster," Fraser said. “From emergency medical care aboard ships, to medical evacuation missions, to the rapid delivery of urgently-needed supplies, they helped save countless lives in the most desperate of times."