Year After Haiti Quake, Gunston Hall Begins New Mission
By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Jan. 13, 2011 One year after it was diverted from a maritime security exercise in Africa to respond to the devastating earthquake in Haiti, the USS Gunston Hall left its home port of Norfolk, Va., yesterday for a military cooperation mission in Central and South America and the Caribbean.
More than 300 Marines with Marine Wing Support Squadron 271, 2nd Tank Battalion, 2nd Assault Amphibian Battalion and individual augmentees from the 2nd Marine Expeditionary Force were slated to join the Whidbey Island-class dock-landing ship today in Morehead City, N.C., for its Southern Partnership Station mission.
The crew is slated to visit Colombia, Brazil, Guatemala and Jamaica during the four-month deployment.
The annual U.S. Southern Command mission deploys various specialty platforms and crews throughout the Caribbean and Latin America to promote information-sharing among navies, coast guards and civilian services throughout the region, Southcom officials said.
Navy Capt. John F. Meier, Gunston Hall’s new commander, is leading this year’s mission that is expected to include a variety of amphibious training exercises.
Gunston Hall was fully loaded and ready to depart for a scheduled exercise in sub-Saharan Africa when it was called on to support humanitarian and disaster relief operations after a magnitude 7.0 earthquake struck Haiti on Jan. 12, 2010.
That mission, Operation Unified Response, was part of a larger U.S. response to the Haitian government’s request for humanitarian aid.
Gunston Hall arrived off the Killick Haitian Coast Guard Base on Jan. 18 and spent more than three weeks in Haiti supporting the mission. Its deck department transported ship's crew ashore, manned the flight deck for helicopter refueling and ran crane operations to load humanitarian and relief supplies onto the mechanized embarked landing craft.
Meanwhile, its embarked crew operated ashore, providing critical humanitarian relief as they worked in concert with the U.S. and Haiti coast guards, U.N. forces, and Honduran, Sri Lankan, Mexican and nonprofit group representatives.
Gunston Hall remained in Haiti in support of Operation Unified Response through Feb. 12 before continuing on to Africa.
"There is no satisfaction greater than seeing someone that you helped feel at ease and at peace," Navy Petty Officer 2nd Class Mercedes Sawin said after completing that operation. "This has been a team effort since Day One, and I'm very grateful to have been a part of it."