Civil Affairs Helps a Stable Haiti Make Progress
By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, May 18, 2004 With the return of stability in Haiti, military civil affairs specialists are working to improve the lives of Haitians throughout the country.
The civil affairs mission has changed since the Multinational Interim Force moved into the troubled Caribbean island nation at the beginning of March. "When we first arrived, our job was to minimize civilian interference in military operations," said Marine Lt. Col. Ernest Garcia, the civil affairs chief for Combined Joint Task Force Haiti.
The most important mission was to establish security following Jean-Bertrand Aristide's resignation as Haiti's president. Gangs roamed the streets of the national capital of Port-au-Prince and of cities in the north. Nongovernmental organizations, which supplied most of the food to the population, could not work in that environment.
U.S., French, Chilean and Canadian forces moved into the country and began to establish security. Civil affairs personnel moved with these forces and urged local people to stay off the streets.
But now the security environment is changed. In addition to the soldiers of the multinational force, the Haitian National Police are back on the job. The force has secured not only the capital and its environs, but also the north and the central plateau of the country. "With this more secure environment, we're able to branch out more," Garcia said.
Most of the civil affairs personnel are from the 96th Civil Affairs Battalion from Fort Bragg, N.C. The active duty unit contains eight personnel in two civil affairs teams. They have been working as the liaison between nongovernmental agencies and the military. They also are helping facilitate movements of humanitarian aid from governmental entities such as the U.S. Agency for International Development and United Nations organizations to the people of Haiti.
Civil affairs personnel are working to facilitate cleaning the streets, getting the schools back up and running, getting markets back in operation and getting food to thousands of people who depend on relief organizations. "At the end of the day, we're pretty tired," said Garcia. "But it's a good tired. We feel we're accomplishing a lot. The payoff for us is when you see the smiling faces of the people you have helped."
Civil-Military Operations Center Director Army Maj. Terence Ray said the nongovernmental and governmental agencies have fit right in with the center. "They have experience working with the U.S. military," Ray said. "They now know how we operate and what we can offer."
Ray said the center is working with Food for the Poor, Catholic Relief Services and the World Health Organization, among others. "Early on, they would come to us to receive escorts for food convoys," Ray said. "They also would come to us with security concerns, and we worked with them to get humanitarian supplies out."
Now the security environment is such that convoys move freely, Ray said.
The unit continues to expand its mission. Recently, the civil affairs personnel sponsored a medical capabilities exercise in Port-au-Prince, and they will sponsor others at different places in the country. "We were able to work with Haitian doctors and nurses in providing medical services," said Sgt. 1st Class Scott Bartolo, a Special Forces-trained medic on the civil affairs team. "We also received medical help from our allies down here."
Bartolo said all were cooperative. The Haitian National Police helped keep order, and the Haitian medical personnel also provided examining sites for the teams. Bartolo said the makeup of the team allowed the medics to provide a full range of medical expertise. "We wanted it to be more than just giving them a bag of medicine and sending them on their ways," he said.
The civil affairs effort will continue. CJTF Haiti commander Marine Corps Brig. Gen. Ronald S. Coleman understands the effort is important, Garcia said, and has provided whatever support the group needs.