US, Canada join forces to provide Haiti security, stability

10 Jun 2004 | Cpl. Mike Escobar

The locals peer curiously out of their dwellings and vending stands, staring at the approaching figures.
Two columns, led by two stalwart fighters, move cautiously through the community, eyes alert for danger.
The local children wave at the passing troops, greeting them with shouts of “Hey you, give me chocolate!”  The warriors glance briefly at them, returning the greeting with a smile and curt nod.
The troops trudge through the streets of Port-au-Prince’s Grand Ravine area, making their way over the rocky terrain and mounds of oddly-shaped stones as the sun beats down on their patrol, punishing their bodies.
The two leaders, clad in digital camouflage, observe their men, whose rifles are at the alert, eyes scanning the ramshackle houses that the patrol passes.
The Canadian soldier and the U.S. Marine walk side-by-side, stepping carefully as they hike through the rugged terrain.  Piles of garbage and small streams of sewage run down either side of the dirt road.  They grimace and wrinkle their noses at the smells of rotting refuse.
The squad leader uses his cammie top’s sleeve to wipe the pouring sweat from his dirt-streaked face.  Looking to either side of the patrol, he stops briefly to examine the view of Port-au-Prince from the hillside on which the Marines patrol.
The young corporal looks behind him to the last man in the patrol, keeping accountability of all his troops and remaining vigilant of his surroundings, alert for any possible threat.
Intelligence reported earlier that there was possible dangerous activity taking place within the sector. 
To respond to the threat, two infantry companies from Combined Joint Task Force-Haiti joined forces to combat the possible threat.
Kilo Company, 3rd Battalion, 8th Marine Regiment teamed up with Hotel Company, 2nd Battalion, Royal Canadian Regiment to patrol the rock-strewn hills of the Grand Ravine area June 10.  Canadian troops accompanied the Marines as they rode in seven-ton vehicles and conducted foot patrols during the operation.
“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 walked alongside members of the Haitian National Police.
“They need to gain the respect of the people, and in turn, ensure that they’re giving that respect right back,” King explained. 
The HNP must also accompany patrols because only host nation forces can arrest suspects the patrol has detained, he continued.
Although the patrol ended without incident, 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, a squad leader with 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 to assist in the locals’ safety, King said the United States and 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 Canadian light armored vehicle unit, gives his Marines an opportunity to operate with wheeled assets from another country, he stated.  In addition, the Marine patrols can also learn about foot patrolling techniques used by the Canadian infantrymen.
“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.”
These Canadian forces also found the joint operations to be a valuable experience.
“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 both different, but extremely professional, forces.”
As the patrol comes to an end, the warriors climb aboard the 7-ton trucks, seat themselves, remove their covers and gulp down water as they stretch their weary legs.
The people of Grand Ravine wave at the troops as the tactical vehicles roar down the street.  The men smile and wave right back as their vehicles head back to base.