Operators from the Air Force’s 24th Special Tactics Squadron (STS) have wrapped up earthquake relief operations in Haiti. Deployed there after a powerful 7.2 magnitude earthquake on August 14, STS operators had been instrumental in supplying aid and re-opening the country’s infrastructure.
Nature Strikes Haiti
At 0829 EDT, August 14, a 7.2 magnitude earthquake occurred on the Tiburon peninsula of Haiti, about 90 miles west of the capital, Port-Au-Prince. The earthquake flattened buildings, downed trees and power lines, and made travel to many parts of the island impossible.
Just three days after the earthquake came Tropical Depression Grace, a tropical storm that dropped inches of rain on an already damaged infrastructure. Actual rainfall amounts are not reported, but forecasters predicted that between five and 15 inches of rain fell locally. Heavy rain triggered landslides in the already unsettled landscape, further hampering efforts to locate survivors and provide relief.
At least 2,200 people have been reported dead in the earthquake and the flooding’s aftermath. With relief efforts still underway, that number may still climb. More than 12,000 people were injured, and many hundreds are still unaccounted for. Add all this to the unrest following the assassination of President Jovenel Moise on July 7, and conditions were ripe for pandemonium.
Special Tactics Response
U.S. Southern Command announced on August 15 that Joint Task Force – Haiti had been established to provide disaster assistance to the people affected by the earthquake. On August 18, SOUTHCOM said that the 24th Special Operations Wing (SOW) had Airmen in Haiti for surveying airfields, clearing debris, and evaluating existing infrastructure to facilitate humanitarian efforts.
The 24th SOW’s team was comprised of five Combat Controllers (CCTs) and one Pararescue Jumper (PJ). Their main task was to survey the Jeremie and Les Ceyes airfields for suitability of use by humanitarian aircraft. These two airfields are located in areas cut off by earthquake damage and flooding. After clearing debris and successfully landing a C-146A on one of the fields, operators made their recommendations to Joint Task Force – Haiti, then headed out to bring relief where it was needed.
Special Tactics members of the Joint Task Force – Haiti positioned themselves for medical evacuation while acting as air traffic controllers augmenting Haitian offices. Combat controllers, working with the U.S. Coast Guard, coordinated airlift operations to provide relief supplies and get medical and humanitarian aid to areas cut off from ground access. Aircrews from the 492nd and 919th Reserve Special Operations Wings brought in the operators and performed landings on prepared airfields to verify suitability.
Operations in Haiti
STS airmen arrived planning to establish airfields and deliver supplies to those that needed them. The CCTs’ unique abilities, paired with the medical training of the PJ, gave them the skillsets needed to respond to changing circumstances. When approached with information about injured children without access to medical help, these operators worked with Joint Task Force – Haiti and Haitian officials to pinpoint the patients, then performed evacuation efforts to get them to needed medical treatment.
Once operational airfields were established, STS Airmen worked alongside Haitian air traffic controllers to coordinate the overall airlift operations on and around the island. Their abilities allowed much-needed supplies to reach areas inaccessible by road, thus potentially saving thousands of lives.
Though not addressed in any significant way as part of earthquake efforts, many areas in Haiti were rendered inaccessible by gang-related activity and civil unrest following the assassination of President Moise. Air Force Special Operators were not called on to use their war-fighting capabilities during earthquake relief, but they were, and are, suited to quickly switch roles as needed. In the aftermath of the assassination, the Haitian prime minister had requested American troops to deploy as peacekeepers, but the Biden administration declined the request.
On September 2, STS Airmen concluded their part in Haitian relief efforts. Many tons of cargo have been flown into the country, and many millions of dollars have been pledged. The U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) has earmarked $32 million in aid for Haiti.
STS operators were instrumental in opening an air corridor and available airstrips to bring that relief in. One operator stated, “It was a very educational experience working alongside not only joint partners from the [Defense Department], as well as USAID, the lead agency for the relief efforts. When circumstances changed, we were able to conduct a medevac, as well as go out alongside other entities and help facilitate their mission using our tools and capabilities. We were able to be pretty dynamic.”
Members of the Air Force’s Special Operations Command have been part of numerous humanitarian efforts over the years, including Operation Unified Response following the 2010 Haiti earthquake.
Special Tactics Airmen always train to operate in hostile, austere, and inaccessible environments. They train to bring the fight to the enemy or provide relief to those in need, and their efforts in Haiti exemplify this. For now, they are back in Florida, training and preparing for the next time they are called upon. Los Professionales.