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Face of Defense: Soldier Keeps Eye on Mission, Ear to Haiti

By Air Force Capt. Tony Wickman
Special to American Forces Press Service

KUNAR PROVINCE, Afghanistan, Jan. 21, 2010 – Haitian-born Army Spc. Franck Joseph is maintaining his focus on the mission here even as he awaits news about the status of his family back in Haiti.

Click photo for screen-resolution image
Army Spc. Franck Joseph rearms an AH-64 Apache helicopter assigned to Task Force Lighthorse at the Camp Wright forward armament and refueling point, Jan. 18, 2010. Joseph is a Haiti-born, Jamaican-raised soldier whose mother, brother, two sisters and extended family were in Haiti when a magnitude 7 earthquake struck the country Jan. 12. U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Brian Boisvert

(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.

The Jamaican-raised soldier serves with Echo Troop, 3rd Squadron, 17th Cavalry Regiment, serving at the Camp Wright forward armament and refueling point. His unit is responsible for fueling and arming helicopters supporting battlespace owners and maneuver elements within Task Force Mountain Warrior’s area of operations.

Joseph’s job entails a certain amount of danger and requires a steady hand, keen eye and attention to detail to the task at hand.

That is why it’s all the more amazing he is able to stay focused on his mission with the uncertainty of the well-being of his mother, siblings and extended family living in Haiti. A magnitude 7 earthquake struck the evening of Jan. 12 near the capital of Port-au-Prince, flattening much of the country.

“My mom, Marguerite Paul, my brother, Kimps, two sisters who I haven’t met yet, uncles and cousins … my entire side of my mom’s family are all in Haiti. I haven’t been able to get in touch with any of them,” Joseph said. “They found one of my aunts, my father’s sister who went to visit family, trapped in a building. They give her 50-50 chance of survival, but they haven’t found anyone else yet.”

Joseph has tried numerous times to get in touch with his mother, but to no avail. He keeps in touch with his wife back at Hunter Army Airfield in Savannah, Ga., and his father’s family for updates.

He said all he can do is stay focused on his mission and keep faith that everything will be OK.

“We try to call, but haven’t been able to get through. My hope is finding my mom, brother and sisters alive and well,” Joseph said.

The 25-year-old soldier, the father of a 4-year-old child, said he is getting a lot of support from the people around him in Afghanistan.

“My leadership … my commander, my first sergeant, my squad … have all been very supportive and try to help me out,” Joseph said. “It’s hard, but this is where I need to be. I want to stay here with my friends and do my mission.”

Once the news was received about the earthquake, Joseph’s leadership took the initiative to redeploy him home. But like a dedicated soldier who enjoys what he does, he turned down the offer.

“He called me and told me to talk to the first sergeant about staying here with the unit,” said Army Staff Sgt. Quentin Colbert, forward armament and refueling point noncommissioned officer in charge. “That’s just the kind of soldier he is.”

American assets and supplies have poured into Haiti since the devastating quake. U.S. search and rescue teams, medical personnel and servicemembers have arrived and have begun providing everything from basic services to vital technical support for the massive relief operations.

Joseph said it is difficult to think about his family in Haiti, but his decision was made for him when he stepped on the plane bound for Afghanistan.

“I’m already here. When I stepped inside the airplane I was focused on my mission,” Joseph said. “You don’t expect something like this to happen, but there is nothing I can do about it.

“Even if I went back to Savannah, it’s going to be the same thing … sit around and wait,” he continued. “This allows me to stay focused, instead of going home and watching people cry and stress out. I wanted to stay here with my friends who are supporting me.”

So every day since the quake, Joseph has gone about refueling, rearming and refitting helicopters landing at the forward armament and refueling point. And he does it with an eye on his mission, but always with an ear to Haiti.

(Air Force Capt. Tony Wickman serves with the Kunar Provincial Reconstruction Team public affairs.)

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Related Sites:
Special Report: Haiti Earthquake Relief

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