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Kansas Air Guard Members Build Hospital in Haiti

By Air Force Tech. Sgt. Emily Alley
Special to American Forces Press Service

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti, Feb. 3, 2010 – The bright clothing, smiles and conversation could be taking place in any hospital lobby in the world.

Click photo for screen-resolution image
Lt. Col. Mark Green, center, commander of the Kansas Air National Guard's 190th Civil Engineering Squadron, demonstrates the proper technique for anchoring an Expeditionary Medical Support hospital in Haiti, Jan. 25, 2010. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Emily Alley

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

Patients are being admitted, treated and released. But a flurry of French and the grinding whirl of a helicopter nearby reveal the reality that this is Haiti.

A brutal sun burns over the tent, while the floor is dust and rock. The patients survived Haiti’s Jan. 12 earthquake. They’ve been flown from the USNS Comfort, the Navy's 1,000-bed floating hospital that has been deployed here. A handful of Navy translators are helping survivors to find rides back to their families.

The Comfort is working at its full operational capacity; officials say it would take a hundred more such ships to treat all of the estimated injured people in Haiti.

Meanwhile, civil engineers from the Kansas Air National Guard are expanding one of the medical triage facilities in Port-au-Prince by assembling an Expeditionary Medical Support hospital.

About 40 members of the 190th Civil Engineering Squadron from Topeka, Kan., and five members of the 184th Civil Engineering Squadron from Wichita, Kan., deployed to Haiti to build infrastructure for sustained humanitarian operations.

Many of the Guardsmen were training at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, when the earthquake struck Haiti. The units deployed to Haiti about two weeks later. The deployment is scheduled to last about four months.

With the hospital in place, medics will be able to ease the workload on the Comfort by performing minor surgery and 24-hour medical operations without transporting patients to the ship.

The Guardsmen also are building a helicopter landing pad to help transport more severely injured patients to and from the Comfort.

"If there's minor surgery (the patients) can get it here instead of the ship," said Lt. Commander Robert Propes, liaison officer for the Comfort.

By the end of January, the engineers had set up air conditioned tents. They plan to eventually provide showers and latrines, which have been a luxury for relief workers. There is an informal consensus at the Port-au-Prince airport that the Kansas Air National Guardsmen are already heroes for bringing those facilities.

The civil engineers could complain about the cramped living quarters, lack of showers and long workdays. They taste the dust, they wear the sun - everyone has some degree of sunburn.

But it's hard to complain when only a few feet from their camp is the city of Port-au-Prince, where the inhabitants must endure similar, or worse, conditions.

(Air Force Tech. Sgt. Emily Alley is serving with the Kansas Air National Guard.)

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Related Sites:
Special Report: Haiti Earthquake Relief

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