Marines return to engagement site

29 Mar 2004 | Staff Sgt. Timothy S. Edwards

The unmistakable whop, whop, whop of helicopter blades echoes through the alleys of a residential community as a convoy of Humvees halts, and its contents of battle-clad warriors jump out. Miniature dust devils swirl up around their boots as they rush to key location behind half built cinder block walls and homes, providing 360 degrees of security for another team stacking along the wall of a home.

With security in place, a team of Marines and Haitian National Police move to the gate of the first compound. “Bang, bang, bang,” echoes over the hilltop landscape broken only by a multitude of unfinished skeletons of grand houses.

Movement is heard inside the compound and the HNP call to the resident to open the gate. An eye peaks through a crack along the iron frame of the security gate, quickly followed by the distinctive clink of the gate’s lock being disengaged.

The rusty hinges screech in protest, as the gate swings open to reveal a short robust man in fine clothing. An uncertain look crosses his face as he sees the fully armed, grim-faced Marines. He steps back, shrinking into himself like an animal expecting to be kicked.

A Marine from the team at the gate quickly steps forward shakes his hand begins talking in Creole, explaining that they are looking for information about gunfire from a few nights ago.

As soon as the Marine started talking, the man’s face brightened with recognition and squared his shoulders with pride. “Everyone I talk to finds pride in me and wants to work with me,” explained Cpl. Kervens Michel, and admin clerk who volunteered to assist in Operation Secure Tomorrow even though he was already on Terminal Leave. “I speak Creole, and they can tell I am from Haiti. Because of this, they trust me, and if I tell them something they listen to what I say.”

In moments the man was explaining that he had been in Florida the night in question but that his housekeeper had told him about the gunfire.

After a few more questions, Michel thanked him for his assistance and the Marines began to push forward to the next house. “We’re moving!” barked out one Marine. “Push forward security!”

Marines react instantly, rushing to new locations farther along the road as the joint team moves to the next home.

Unlike the first home this one was conglomeration of half-built rooms and sheet metal. A cinder-block wall looking as if it was abandoned in mid-construction surrounds piles of gravel, dirt and blocks sitting where workers had left them.

As the team works their way through piles of abandoned construction material, Marines rush in to take up security positions. Above, the command and control helicopter continues to circle, providing intelligence on movements in the community.

Weapons Company, 3rd Battalion, 8th Marine Regiment conduct a Cordon and Knock Operation here March 28 to investigate an incident a few nights prior. “Last Thursday morning at approximately 1 am, one of my squads came under fire in this community while conducting a night patrol,” explained Capt. Bill A. Sablan, Weapons Company commander. “We have returned to the area to talk to the people in the neighborhood and gather any information that might lead us to the gunmen.”

With approximately 50 Marines and sailors as well as the 4 members of the HNP involved, the operations went smoothly with no incidents. “We obtained some useful information that was turned into our intelligence section,” Sablan explained. “In addition, we confiscated two shotguns and some ammunition.”

According to Sablan the hardest part of the operation was communication with the community. “The most challenging part of the operation was ascertaining the right questions to ask and posing them in such a way as to produce useful information,” he continued.

This problem was solved with the presence of Cpl. Michel. “Many of the people are confused about what is going on in the community,” Michel explained. “When I go out I talk to the people, explaining what we are doing and what we need from them to make their lives better. They understand and for the most part are enthusiastic about working with us.”

It is the hope of the members of the Multi-national Interim Force, that operations such as this will also help bring awareness to the community. “We hope it shows them our resolve to provide a more secure environment for them to get their country back on its feet,” Sablan explained.

Hours later, Marines dripping sweat and shoulders slumping from the weight of gear increased by the heat of the afternoon sun, climb back into Humvees and begin their patrol back to their base camp near the airport.