PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti – -- A tiny hand reaches up to tug on the edge of a camouflaged blouse, as a young child peaks from behind a camouflaged pant leg, a look of uncertainty on her face.
She quickly tugs a second time then brings her hands up to her face as she begins to back away, disappointed.
A big, calloused hand reaches down to her shoulder as the stern-faced warrior glances down to see what had been tugging at him.
The young girl shrinks away from his stern look, soft brown eyes round with fear, afraid she had done something wrong.
Seeing the child’s response, his expression softens to a slight smile and he quickly goes down on a knee to be on the same level as the meek child.
He motions to her with gentle gestures to come closer and speaks to her in a soft comforting voice, hoping to encourage her.
At first she is still hesitant but curiosity has her inching closer and closer, reaching out to touch his rough, suntanned hands, then his uniform.
A shy smile begins to tug at the corners of her mouth as he continues to talk to her.
Her tentative smile soon turns into giggles and laughter as he takes the opportunity to tickle her.
His laugh joins hers as she splashes him with some water from a bottle given to her earlier.
Starved for attention and love, the young child is soon climbing into the warrior’s arms, her fists curl around handfuls of camouflaged clothing, her head rests against his shoulder, a content happy smile on her face as she clings to her Marine.
While conducting civil-military operations, Marines and Sailors from Combat Service Support Detachment – 20 find themselves absorbed in children, unable to walk away without giving a little of their hearts as they conduct minor repairs to the Orphanage of Cazeau, here April 3.
“I think this visit has helped the Marines as much as it has the children,” explained Pfc. Jamie L. Halliday, Motor Transportation Operator with CSSD – 20. “It is amazing being around the children and seeing them smile, having a child you don’t even know run up and drag you off.
“It makes me feel better about myself, because I am helping someone else,” continued the Connellsville, Pa. native. “I am sure a lot of other Marines feel the same way. It makes us proud to be here.”
According to 1st Lt. Michael S. Johnson, CSSD-20’s Adjutant, the visit also validates what the service members are doing in Haiti.
“It lets the Marines get out and interact,” he explained. “They get to see what their work here has done and continues to do for the community.”
He also said that this type of project shows the softer side of the Multi-national Interim Force. “When we first hit the ground, we used a massive show of force to help build security in the country. Now that it has happened a little, we want to show that we care.”
These visits are good for the children as well, according to Sam Streu, a volunteer at the orphanage.
“I think it is just wonderful for the Marines to come build a relationship with the children,” he explained. “It is good for them in many ways. It allows the children to see the military as more than just violent warriors to fear. They can now see they are loving, caring people that are here to help.
“Also, the children don’t get much love and attention because they are orphans,” he continued. “The Marines are providing them with loving arms that they so rarely get to feel.”
While at the orphanage, the service members made incidental repairs to the roofs of the its dining facility and tool shop, built simple shelves for clothing in the children’s dormitory as well as performed other minor maintenance.
“By no means are we making handcrafted furniture,” the Lawrenceville, Ga. native explained. “But the things we are making are good and solid because we know kids like to play and climb. We know they are rough.”
The Marines also found the children to be tough athletes.
“On our last two visits we have played soccer with the kids,” Johnson explained. “Each time the kids have schooled us.
“Soccer is what these kids live for. When we take a break, the Marines will be drinking water and trying to catch their breath, while these kids practice juggling the soccer balls.”
This visit to the orphanage found the service members also playing basketball and baseball with the children as well as reading books, drawing pictures and just spending needed personal time with the kids.
“It is amazing,” Streu explained. “Each child has a Marine of their own. That is what these kids really need more than any other help the Marines can bring.”
This visit didn’t fail to touch the hearts and views of the local adults working at the facility either.
“By coming here, giving a helping hand and so much love, they have given me a whole new view of Marines,” said Astrelr Vincent, the orphanage’s assistant manager. “Before I thought they just went to war and were heartless. Now, I can see they are just like me and love very deeply.
“I appreciate the Marines being here to protect us,” he continued. “Even more, I appreciate the love they have given to these children.”
As the sun climbs across the sky, the echo of pounding hammers and buzzing saws soon becomes drowned out by the joyous laughter of children and Marines alike.