By Air Force Lt. Col. Ellen Krenke
National Guard Bureau
ARLINGTON, Va., (6/18/10) - Army Col. Mike Borrell, the commander of Task Force Kout Men, which in Creole means "Helping Hands," has two goals for his mission in Haiti this summer.
First, he hopes to provide some relief to the Haitian people, who suffered a devastating earthquake earlier this year.
"A great number of people ... we think somewhere in the neighborhood of 100,000 ... moved north from Port-au-Prince ... after the devastation," he told the DoD Bloggers Roundtable June 17. "It caused an increase in the schools in the Gonaives area, so by us coming in here and building that new construction, it provides some relief for them."
The 500-member task force will construct four new schools in the area with latrines and repaired water wells, and conduct 10 medical readiness and training exercises, or MEDRETEs.
Borrell's second goal is that he expects the servicemembers to gain valuable training from their involvement in the task force.
"The training they're receiving down here cannot be replicated anywhere," he said. "Everything from the deployment back at home station to the port operations, to the ... airport operations here in Port-au-Prince, the convoy movements on the roads here. We're in a very austere environment in Haiti."
The troops include not only Army and Air National Guard personnel, but also Navy Seabees, the active duty Army and the Army Reserve, who will operate in three locations: Gonaives, which is 95 miles north of Port-au- Prince; the port in Port-au-Prince; and the Reception Staging Onward-Movement and Integration (RSOI) site in Port-au-Prince.
"The Soldiers, Sailors and Airmen working on Task Force Kout Men are doing a tremendous job," he said. "We have changed the lives of our local neighbors a lot. We're happy that we're here." Along with this mission, Borrell said the Louisiana Guard has been deployed around the world. The 256th Infantry Brigade Combat Team is in Iraq. The state has troops defending its shoreline from the oil spill and then there is hurricane season.
"Well, we're good," he said. "Actually, everything is planned out. Louisiana has had unbelievable experience and training when it comes to hurricane exercises over the last couple of years.
"It is difficult. We have to effectively use our people when it's time."
Borrell said the state also has the option of calling in Guardmembers from other states through the Emergency Management Assistance Compact.
"They have always stepped up to the plate to assist us with Soldiers and aircraft in the past," he said. "So to say that Louisiana would do it alone I think is probably incorrect."
Borrell said it feels good to give back after his state received such an outpouring of support after Hurricane Katrina.
"We had a lot of people from different countries and all through the United States come and give assistance to Louisiana and its people," he said. "So it feels very good to come here and help the people of Haiti. Every day that I go out on the project sites and the MEDRETE sites, I see the children. We're very well welcome here in Haiti. They have a lot of respect for the United States and the people of Louisiana.
"So it does, it feels very good and I am just extremely proud to be ... able to help them and do something that will actually help them improve the quality of their life."
Borrell said the Louisiana Guardsmen will be on alert for hurricanes during their time in Haiti.
"Some of the guidance that we have received from Southern Command is to be prepared in the event of a devastating earthquake or any natural disaster," he said. "We will go into a search and rescue mode to help the people of Haiti."