PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti -- Marines and sailors from Marine Air Ground Task Force-8 began washing down their vehicles in preparation for their redeployment back to the United States.
The troops are working alongside Haitians, contracted to clean the vehicles, to meet stringent federal health and import standards before loading hundreds of pieces of equipment onto U.S.-bound ships.
“We have to comply with the USDA [U.S. Department of Agriculture] standard of no foreign soil being brought into the United States,” said Lt. Mary C. Graves, the senior agricultural inspector at the wash down facility. “The vehicles and equipment have gone through a lot down here due to the amount of debris and trash present when we first got here.”
The crew of Marines and Haitians has established a thorough wash down process to ensure that the vehicles and equipment leaving the country are up to the USDA specifications.
“The vehicles are driven onto wash ramps, then they are sprayed with high pressure water hoses,” Graves said. “After the vehicle is sprayed down, the inspectors go through it, inspecting every nook and cranny for any leftover dirt or grime,” she explained.
The Marines have overcome many obstacles since they started the wash down process approximately two weeks ago. Haiti’s limited resources made for a slow start until the crews were able to fine-tune the process.
“I’m used to being in countries that have systems in place where you can drive vehicles up onto large ramps and clean and inspect the entire vehicle at one time,” Graves said. “Here we’ve had to work on a much smaller scale with ramps that allow you to only elevate the front or the back of the vehicle.”
The Marines have also had to overcome a significant language barrier while working with the Haitian cleaning crews.
“I can tell a Marine to go clean the transmission and they know exactly what I mean. Here I have to point out everything, but they’ve been able to catch on fairly quickly. I mostly communicate with my hands using a thumbs-up or down and a smile,” she explained.
Graves also said that even though it’s taken some time to get accustomed to the language barrier, they have been able to cut the time of the cleaning processes for the various humvees, seven-ton trucks and light armored vehicles down to just over an hour and are currently three days ahead of schedule.
“It’s going fairly quickly now. We can get the vehicle in, washed, inspected, tagged and staged for processing onto the ship in about an hour and 15 minutes. It’s going very well,” Graves said.
After the vehicles have been thoroughly cleaned and staged, they are placed on metal platforms to be loaded onto the transport ships.
“We’ve moved a lot of gear over the past few weeks,” said Lance Cpl. Bryan D. Gibbs, a landing support specialist with Combat Service Support Detachment-20, who helps track and move the equipment from the staging area onto the ships.
“Everything we’ve moved out of here has been a little different,” Gibbs said, referring to the wide variety of containers, generators and military and commercial vehicles he has helped load.
Much like the wash down process, the Marines have been working with local Haitians to load the gear onto ships and have had to overcome the same language barrier.
“The communication difficulties have added a little time to the process. At first it was really hard trying to get things done, but now we are all on the same page,” Gibbs said.
Both the Marines and Haitian port employees have been working long hours to meet the timelines established for the redeployment of the equipment, according to Gibbs.
“Sometimes we are working sixteen-hour days to get this stuff out of here. The local port crews are right here along with us, working just as hard as we are,” he explained.
The arduous task of cleaning and loading the numerous pieces of equipment for the trip back to Camp Lejeune has been worthwhile, according to Gibbs.
“It’s a good feeling knowing that we are helping everyone get out of here now that the operation is coming to an end. It’s felt good being able to wrap up this operation knowing that we’ve done a good job down here,” Gibbs said.