PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti -- Two warriors clad in digital camouflage attire walk the streets of Port-au-Prince’s Grand Ravine region in the center of a tactical column of Marines. They carry their rifles at the alert as they observe the ramshackle houses their patrol passes.
The Canadian soldier and the American Marine walk side-by-side, watching their feet as they hike through the rocky, uphill terrain. Piles of garbage and rivulets of raw sewage run on either side of the unpaved street. The warriors wrinkle their noses and furrow their brows as the smells of putrescence waft into their nostrils.
The locals poke their heads out of their dwellings and vending stands on the side of the road. Children wave at the troops as they pass, greeting them with cries of “Hey you, give me chocolate!”
The patrol’s squad leader uses his soiled cammie top sleeve to wipe the pouring sweat from his countenance. He looks to either side of the patrol, stopping briefly to examine the view of Port-au-Prince from the hillside on which the Marines walk. The young corporal then looks behind him to the last man in the patrol, and thinks about the word he and his fellow squad leaders were given at the morning brief.
Intelligence reported earlier that day that there was possible dangerous activity taking place within the sector.
Upon receiving this word, two infantry companies with the Combined Joint Task Force-Haiti decided to join forces and combat the possible threat.
Kilo Company, 3rd Battalion, 8th Marine Regiment teamed up with Hotel Company, 2nd Battalion, Royal Canadian Regiment to patrol the hilly, rock-strewn Grand Ravine region June 10. Canadian troops accompanied the Marines as they rode in seven-ton vehicles and conducted foot patrols during Operation Combined Surge.
“This has been a dangerous region because of the pressure that (local gangs) have put on the local population in the past,” said Canadian Maj. Russ King, Hotel Company commander. “We hope our joint patrols help to dislocate them from the region and keep the population safe.”
The two platoons of Marines and two platoons of Canadians that participated in the operation also brought with them members of the Haitian National Police.
“It’s all about making the HNP accountable,” King explained. “They need to gain the respect of the people, and in turn, ensure that they’re giving that respect right back.”
The HNP must also accompany patrols because only host nation forces can apprehend suspects the patrol wishes to detain, he continued.
Although the patrol ended with no incidents occurring, the mere act of providing military presence helps deter criminal activity, King added. He said he believes the local population also appreciates the security the CJTF-Haiti forces are providing.
“The Haitians are getting friendlier towards us now that we’ve been here awhile,” said Marine Cpl. David J. Johnson, 2nd squad leader for 3rd Platoon, Kilo Company, agreeing with King. “For the most part, they enjoy the help we give them and appreciate us being here.”
Aside from providing military presence in the sector and helping keep the locals safe, King said the United States and the Canadian forces can learn a lot from one another.
“I think it’s important to do combined operations in this type of environment, to cooperate fully, and get to see each other’s professional skills,” he continued. “You get to see that there are many commonalities.”
“It’s cross pollination,” said Marine Capt. Sean Connolly, Kilo Company commander, concurring with King. “Any time you have a chance to get out with a different group of people, you have an opportunity to get better at what you do.”
Patrolling with Hotel Company, a light armored vehicle based unit, gives his Marines more ideas on how to operate with wheeled assets, he stated. What’s more, the Marine patrols can also learn about foot patrolling techniques by observing how the Canadian infantrymen do it, the commander continued.
“It’s nice to be working with the Canadians so we get to know what each other does on patrols,” Johnson said. “We can integrate and learn to use different techniques to see what works best.”
“We’re very glad to have had the opportunity to work with the Marine Corps,” stated King. “The associations we’ve made here certainly go to show both sides that we’re two different, but extremely professional, forces.”