General Keen’s Blog: The Power of Partnerships
By Army Lt. Gen. Ken Keen
Commander, Joint Task Force Haiti
PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti, March 30, 2010 My time spent here in Haiti has been a journey to say the least. I have been fortunate to be part of a mission that carries with it a level of importance that I could never begin to describe with words. I’ve also been fortunate to have a number of teammates with me at every step of the way. I am a firm believer that having strong partnerships in any operation, but particularly in a humanitarian one like Operation Unified Response, is the difference between success and failure.
Army Lt. Gen. Ken Keen, left, and Maj. Gen. Floriano Peixoto of the Brazilian army met nearly three decades ago as young officers, and both played leading roles in Haiti earthquake relief this year. Keen has served as commander of the U.S. Joint Task Force Haiti, and Peixoto as force commander for the United Nations stabilization mission in Haiti. U.S. Air Force photo by Maj. Betsy Ross
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
In October 1984, I was a battalion operations officer with the 1st Battalion, 325th Airborne Infantry Regiment. I was participating in a one-month airborne exchange program with the Brazil Airborne Brigade in Rio de Janeiro. During my stay, I had the opportunity to meet then-Army Capt. Floriano Peixoto, an infantry pathfinder instructor in the Brazilian brigade. Little did I know that 26 years later he and I would be commanding troops in Haiti.
Over the years, we kept in touch and our paths occasionally crossed. The partnership we formed nearly three decades ago was rooted in our understanding of each other’s culture, language and operability. And the fact that we are soldiers, paratroopers and brothers-in-arms made the bond between us even stronger.
Soon after the Jan. 12, 7.0-magnitude earthquake, I sought out the United Nations’ military forces. And knowing Maj. Gen. Peixoto was the commander, I knew I had a friend, ally and partner to assist us in delivering humanitarian relief to the people of Haiti.
Since we had known each other for years, we didn’t have to go through the standard protocols and introductions that usually occur when military leaders of two nations meet for the first time. He and I both agreed that saving lives and mitigating the suffering of the Haitian people was the goal. We wasted no time and immediately went to work, drafting up a plan to provide immediate relief.
From the start, it was clear Joint Task Force Haiti would operate within the envelope of a safe and secure environment. Maj. Gen. Peixoto’s force of roughly 4,000 soldiers in Port-au-Prince would provide the necessary security so U.S. forces could support the humanitarian assistance and disaster relief mission.
Having been in command for nearly a year and possessing extensive previous experience in Haiti, Maj. Gen. Peixoto and his staff had the situational awareness and clear understanding of the atmospherics on the ground. Bringing the U.S. and U.N. staffs together on such short notice gave us a common operating picture and assisted us in supporting the delivery of food, water and emergency medical care. This would not have been possible if it wasn’t for the trust and partnership we shared. The result was a classic case study in international partnering and how to coordinate and collaborate in a humanitarian crisis.
As Operation Unified Response approaches the three-month mark, looking back I can list a number of lessons learned. But one that stands out above the others is that the power of partnerships can never be underestimated. The friendship Maj. Gen. Peixoto and I established 26 years ago is proof that partnerships play an essential role in international operations. It not only strengthened our collective approach to accomplishing the mission here in Haiti, but it ensured success in a very complex and dynamic environment.