PORT-AU-PRINCE,Haiti -- The sharp sour scent of refuse and excrement causes grimaces and foul words from a number of Marines as their patrols work their winding way through trash heaps and cargo containers that litter the Killick Port Facility.
The static of radio calls drift with the light morning breeze, only broken by the soft gurgling sounds the warriors’ boots make in the mud.
The platoon sergeant silently signals a halt by raising his left arm up, like a bicyclist making a right turn.
Quickly holding a brief conference with the company first sergeant, he then moves forward for a quick leaders’ recon of the route ahead. As he passes the Marines, he whispers quiet instructions for them to find cover and shade.
The Marines react quickly, taking up security positions that are easily defensible with shade to keep them out of Haiti’s scorching morning sun as the temperature continues to rise.
Not having long to wait, the Marines are soon on the move again as the platoon sergeant steps into view and motions for them to move out.
Deep ingrained training kicks in and the Marines are up and moving in an instant scanning the buildings, refuse heaps, and cargo containers for any sign of danger.
The sun continues to bake the Marines’ already weathered browned skin as they move through the morning foot and vehicle traffic that surrounds the port’s piers.
The intimidating warrior’s scowl is an easy thing to maintain as the confinement of the 15 pounds of flak jacket and helmet cut into shoulders and heads, holding in the heat like an oven. Sweat first only dribbles down their arms and sides of their faces but soon it is running in muddy rivers to drip from noses and chins.
Nearing the port, the platoon commander calls a halt and brings them in for a quick mission update.
“This is the situation Devil Dogs. The coast guard has information that there are drugs on a ship in the port. The ship has been in the port for about ten days and they are going to take it down.
“Our job is to provide an outer perimeter to first,” he continues, “keep those on the ship for escaping. Second, we will have the Coast Guard’s back to keep them safe while they and the Haitian Coast Guard search the ship.”
Forming back into staggered columns along the roadway, they quickly move through the morning workers and vehicles that are beginning to congest the areas.
The smell of human sweat, salt air, ship fuel and burning refuse nearly choke the Marines as they rush onto the pier securing first the entrance and then cordoning off the ship.
The roar of two boats coming up to the pier drowns out all other noise until their engines gurgle to a stop.
Soon the sound of more boots pounding on the pier echoes down the line of ships as Haitian and American Coast Guard rush around a cargo truck and then their boots are banging on the metal stairs leading up to the ships main deck.
“Arretez! Arretez!” Marines from near the front of the ship begin shouting. Reacting quickly, more Marines rush to assist and support those already in the area.
“We have two that jumped off the side,” the Marines on sight quickly explain as the platoon commander arrives with the Haitian National Police and a linguist.
The Marines conduct a quick search and then turn them over to the local police for questioning.
This morning the Marines of Weapons Platoon, Kilo Company, 3rd Battalion, 8th Marine Regiment was tasked with supporting the U.S. and Haitian Coast Guard as well as the Haitian National Police as they conducted a search and seizure operation of aboard a ship suspected of transporting drugs and contraband.
According to Staff Sgt. Bobby F. Blakeney, Weapons Platoon commander, the platoon provided an inner and outer perimeter to make sure no one got off the ship as well as preventing anyone from getting on the ship while the other forces boarded and conducted their search.
This is the first time the Weapons Platoon had conducted a combined joint exercise of this nature and found it to be a great learning experience.
“The coordination with the Coast Guards and the police was challenging,” Blakeney explained. “We had to find out what they wanted and how we could best support them.”
“It was good though,” the Greensboro, NC native continued. “Working with them gave the Marines a better appreciation of how they work and what they do so that they will be able to better interact with them in the future.
Many of the Marines express that they are glad to be here helping the Haitian people, especially now that they can see the country starting to come alive.
“It is great seeing how we can provide assistance and how we are appreciated by the community,” Blakeney explained.
“While we are out here the people wave at us and a lot of them come up to us and thank us for helping them.”
There is a visible difference in the community as well according to Blakeney.
“There is a definite change,” he explained. People stay out later. The really bad neighborhoods that use to have gun shoots all the time have settled down in some cases and completely stopped in others. Most of the looting and robbing has stopped in these areas as well.”
“It is good to see because our mission is to provide security and stability so that the good people of Haiti can go about their daily lives without the threat of gangs.”
As the Coast Guards finish their search and disembark the ship, the Marines form up and begin their patrol back to their home base at the port where they will find some much need rest.