PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti -- Nearly a week before the bulk of U.S. forces arrived here members of the 2nd Fleet Anti-Terrorism Security Team from Norfolk, Va., deployed to assist in the prevention of various rebel factions and organized gangs from enveloping the city and throwing the entire country in to further turmoil.
The small platoon with a contingent of sailors and soldiers reinforced key sites within the capital including the U.S. Chancery, consulate and embassy as well as provided intelligence to U.S. State department officials and military planners for possible U.S. military involvement here.
As thousands of armed Haitians gathered in the streets during the Caribbean’s carnival season and others were fleeing the country as it teetered on the brink of civil war FAST platoon was working with the U.S. embassy and other agencies to maintain security and provide stability to the country.
“When we got here the Haitians were celebrating ‘Carnival’, there were thousands of people on the streets and most had guns, it was a very volatile situation,” said Columbia, Md. native Capt. Bryce T. Armstrong, FAST Platoon commander.
The platoon quickly sprang into action after landing and securing the international airport here, branching out into the city to provide security at key sites and aiding government officials to safety.
Moving in convoys through the congested city streets, avoiding roadblocks established by local gang leaders, the platoon split its forces to provide a greater presence within the city. Other members of the platoon gathered information for military planners before the arrival of the Marine Air Ground Task Force comprised of Marines from Camp Lejeune, N.C.
“There were between sixty to one-hundred road blocks throughout the city, but we maneuvered around them running nearly 15 convoys per day, allowing us to establish a presence in many places throughout the city.” Armstrong said.
Through the use of quick reactionary forces the platoon was able to prevent several attempts by rebel factions from overrunning the presidential palace and the prime ministers residence. The platoon increased security by helping to reorganize the Haitian security forces in place with the establishment of observation posts, vehicle checks, entry control points and fortification of the compounds perimeters.
“We used hundreds of rolls of concertina wire and all the resources we had to the full extent,” said, Staff Sgt. Bernie J. Haberkam, FAST platoon, platoon sergeant, from Baltimore, MD said.
The platoon’s size limited its ability to be everywhere in the city at once, but they overcame these obstacles by training the local Haitian guard forces to provide their own security.
The platoon helped increase security at Kilick Port where the Haitian Coast Guard was repatriating fleeing Haitian citizens, by training and reorganizing their force.
“We helped them refortify their positions, clean their weapons and reestablish themselves under the constant pressure of the rebel forces.”
Although the success of their operations was due in part to the employment of tactics and equipment the success of their operations stemmed mostly from the flexibility and dedication of the Marines in their charge according to Haberkam.
“The Marines were amazing, the Marine NCO‘s were flexible and able to adapt to any situation that came up,” Haberkam said.
With all the chaos taking place in the city Marines were forced to rely on each other for support.
“When we got here there were a lot of carjackings, roadblocks and shootings, it was close to anarchy,” said Sgt. Buck A. Bradley, a squad leader in the platoon from Ottawa, Kan. “But you know you will make it through because you can count on the Marine to the left and the right of you.”
The training the Marines received prior to deployment was also imperative to their success here according to Bradley.
Bradley recalled an incident while providing security at the prime ministers residence when more than a thousand rebels were converging on their location.
“I didn’t have any fears that we would be okay, because the hand full of Marines I had with me knew what they were doing and had been trained well,” Bradley said.
Although they had endured many trying times since there arrival the Marines are all glad they came, according to Lance Cpl. Clinton W. Thoman of Littleton, CO.
“This is everything we have trained for and I am glad that we had the opportunity to help shape the history of Haiti,” Thoman said.
Thoman also said he has a positive outlook for the people here.
“This country has a few bad elements and the rest of the people are just trying to live their lives and we’re going to help them do it.”
Upon arrival the platoons quickly got to work
With limited resources to work with the nearly 50 service members often had to split their force working in smaller teams to protect the many officials who were in the country at the time as well as work