PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti -- A team of service members from 3rd Battalion, 8th Marine Regiment, here supporting Combined Joint Task Force – Haiti, conducted a visit to Cite Soleil March 26.
3rd Battalion, 8th Marines Commanding Officer, Colonel David H. Berger, led a group of Marines and Sailors to a meeting with three of the five informal leaders from the Cite Soleil District to discuss the needs of the area and visit specific sites that need the most immediate assistance.
“This is an ideal area to start with because it is at ground zero,” Berger explained. “It is like the bottom of the barrel.”
After their brief meeting with the informal leaders of the district, Col. Berger along with a team that included the Battalion’s chaplain, surgeon and logistics officer toured streets choked with piles of trash and flooded with sewage water to conduct assessments at four schools and a hospital.
According to Berger, this builds the units awareness of the specific urgent needs of the district so that they can begin to prioritize their efforts.
“We can’t sit here with a lot of capability and not go out and assist where there is a need that we can make a dent in,” Berger explained about the days visit. “Our focus is on areas of the city with the worst living conditions where we can make an immediate impact with the limited resources we have on hand.
“We are beginning the limited projects we are capable of taking on to make an immediate improvement in living conditions for the people of City Soleil.”
According to Berger they also assessed requirements for trash removal, potable water and recreational areas.
Some of the planned assistance includes the delivery of potable water, the rehabilitation of schools, the repair of key vehicles needed by the clinic, the delivery of generator fuel to the clinic so that the clinic has continuous power, the removal of trash from city streets and providing trained military medical personnel to assist in the hospital.
“Though the hospital is mainly pediatrics and OBGYN, we can provide teams to help out in the emergency room as well as with basic aid,” explained Navy Lt. Ryan Frieder, 3rd Battalion, 8th Marines’ surgeon.
“They are pretty well stocked on supplies,” he continued. “They are limited on immunilizations due to limited electricity though.”
The electrity and water supplies at the clinic are easy fix according to the Battalion’s logistics officer, Capt. George F. Reniers.
“We will have fuel to them tomorrow,” he explained. “We may even be able to get some extra 55-gallon fuel storage tanks for them.”
“We can’t get the water trucks past all the trash piled in the streets yet,” Reniers continued. “What I can do is have our water jugs filled, and our Marines can hand-carry them to the clinics water holding tank. It is a temporary solution until we can get our water trucks in there. Good clean water is their main need.”
The schools are looking to be the biggest challenge for the unit to over come.
“The schools need re-roofed,” Berger explained, “as well as a lot of refurbishment to many of the rooms. We need to make these repairs so that the schools can reopen.”
To overcome these types of issues the unit is looking towards specialists for assessments and assistance.
“We need to coordinate with the Civil Affairs team, Combat Engineers and the Combat Service Support Detachment,” Berger said. “They have plumbers, carpenters and electricians we can tap into.
According to Berger an easy fix at the schools is the need for benches and tables.
“They wanted some benches at the soccer field but our first priority is the schools,” he explained. “We can’t have kids standing up while attending schools.
“We have guys here making benches and stuff out of pallets and scrap wood. We can put them to work making them for the schools.”
The work within the district also serves another purpose that will help the community.
“This will help establish a continuous Marine Corps presence in Cite Soleil that will ensure security,” Berger stated. “Our immediate goal is to help these people by making the streets safe, delivering limited quantities of potable water, providing limited on-the-street medical care, cleaning up the streets of garbage and making repairs to schools so that they can reopen.