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Sunday, January 24, 2010

U.S. Coast Guard report from Haiti

Here is a cut and paste from my friend Duke Gatto, retired Coast Guard officer, who sent me this piece out of the Concord Monitor he received, written by a U.S. Coast Guardsman on the Tohoma.


Interesting article from a young ensign from the USCGC TAHOMA describing his experiences working with the relief efforts in Haiti.


The Concord [NH] Monitor
Tuesday, January 19, 2010javascript:void(0)

'This is why we signed up'
Concord 'Coastie' joins relief effort in Haiti

For the Monitor

Ensign Christopher Pince, 22, of Concord is aboard
the Tahoma, a U.S. Coast Guard Cutter based in
Portsmouth that has been dispatched to Haiti to assist
earthquake victims. Pince e-mailed this letter to his
fiancee Saturday, who forwarded it to family members.
His parents, David and Meg Pince, offered to share
it with the Monitor:

Shortly after I e-mailed you this morning, I was told I
was going to be on one of the boarding teams going
over this morning. I quickly changed into my blue
coveralls and boots and headed down to board the
small boat that would take us over. I was the second
wave of Coasties to go over. We left at about 9 a.m.

As I headed over, I noticed (that) the trash I told you
about that littered the harbor water began to get much
heavier. Soon you couldn't even see water, it was just
trash and debris. We were dropped off at the Haitian Coast
Guard Base . . . or what was left of it. It really was
just a couple ruined buildings and a dock. There were
several trashed boats laying on what was left of a
small beach. But what was left of the base was in

We disembarked from the small boat and started
walking down a small road. The road had different
levels to it, like it was split in random places. Some
higher, some lower. Trees were uprooted, rocks
and boulders were all over the place. As you looked
around all you could see were uprooted trees and
deserted huts, most of which were completely in ruins.
I passed several huge stone buildings that were
destroyed and looked like they were about to fall
over at the slightest breeze. We had marked these
off with yellow caution tape to alert people not to go
near them.

We continued walking down the road and began to
notice Haitian people just sitting by the side of the
road. Some of them had makeshift bandages, others
just were sitting there. Some talked, others just
looked forlorn and stared at the ground. Even those
who talked were solemn and downtrodden. There
was no laughter, no smiles, no children's voices -
just silence.

As we got closer to the building that we had set up
as our makeshift clinic, the silence was broken by
the sounds of people, but it wasn't the normal sounds
you hear from people . . . they were screams,
wailing, crying, and desperate calls for what had to
be help. I knew I was going to be walking into a
destroyed third world country, but nothing could have
prepared me for what I saw at the clinic.

Pleas for help

As soon as I got there, before I could even find out
what I could do to help, I was grabbed by a man
and a woman pleading with me and a buddy to come
and help their child. I didn't know what to say, so
I followed them. They brought me to a little girl who
had an open laceration on her arm and a broken
leg. She was covered in a wool blanket, and there
were flies buzzing around her.

I knelt down next to her and brushed all the flies away
and ran my hand over her head trying to soothe her.
She didn't make a sound. Just looked up at me. I
turned to my friend and told him that we needed to
find out what the heck we had so we could help them.

We told the parents we'd be right back and made our
way to the front of the clinic. There were approximately
200 people waiting in the yard outside. Most were
hurt, some were family members who pleaded with us
as we walked inside to help their loved ones. We told
them we'd be back out and kept walking.

The clinic was run by all Coasties. We had armed
guards standing watch so the people wouldn't stampede
in. We passed by our shipmates and walked in. The
stench inside was incredible. It smelled like garbage
(which turned out to be rotting flesh) and then mixed
with bleach, which is what we used to clean the floors
and tables. I have never seen anything like what I saw
in that clinic.

We immediately found our ship doctor and were
directed to the supplies. I'm not a doctor and my
knowledge of medicine is very small. But today, I
got a lot of hands-on training. My buddy - his name
is Chris, too - and I grabbed splints, gauze, bandages,
disinfecting solutions and other supplies and headed
back outside. From that point on we just went from
person to person, splinting arms, cleaning and
bandaging wounds, and comforting and giving water
to everyone we could find.

It was like walking into a nightmare. I've never
experienced anything like it in my life. I had to stop
and pray several times, just for the strength to keep

Smiles and sobs

I helped take care of a little girl. She had to be about
6 years old. She was so cute. She had a broken arm
and was trying so hard not to cry. I came up to her
and knelt down and asked if she was okay. She just
nodded at me. So I began talking to her and preparing
the splint for her arm. After I had wrapped it up, I
told her she was very brave and patted her cheek
gently. She gave me the biggest smile, and I smiled
back. Her parents were so thankful.

There was a little boy who already had his leg in a splint
who was sitting there sobbing. So I went up to him and
put my arm around him and got him to calm down and
stop crying. I had brought a couple of the candy bars
that you gave me for Christmas, but I left them in a guy's
backpack. I wish I had them to give to a couple of the
kids - that would have been a real treat for them.

I can't even tell you how terrifying some of the wounds
were. Old people, young people alike were just torn
apart. I saw more rotting flesh and open wounds today
than I have ever seen in my life. I worked as hard as
I could to help these people. I did everything I could . . .
but if it was a huge wound, I could only tell them to
wait and refer them to a doctor.

I ended up cleaning wounds, putting splints on, and just
helping carry people and bring medical supplies around
to the doctors and people who were more qualified
than I. I hope I made a difference for at least some of
the people.


I was cleaning a wound on a small boy, and a man with a
broken leg was talking to me. He kept telling me how he
"loved Americans" and how "God will bless America
forever." Everyone I saw, even if they didn't know any
English, were just so thankful.

It was such an out-of-this-world experience. I felt like I
was in a book - I couldn't believe it was me doing this.
Living this. I hope I could make a difference. I hope the
small things I did, the smiles that I gave to them, the
reassurance that help was coming, I hope it made a
difference. In the six hours I was there, I hope I helped.

The sun is setting and most of our guys are back on board.
There have been four helicopters flying hurt people to
hospitals throughout the day.

We'll see if I go back there. They're rotating the boarding
teams so that everyone gets a chance to participate and
help out. I don't know if I will, but I do know that the
experience itself was rewarding, if not terrifying, too.

Please feel free to share this with your family and anyone
else. Pass on to them my love, and tell them to keep the
prayers coming for the people of Haiti, and all the military
down here helping. One thing I want you to know is that
every day Captain will ask us at quarters (formation)
who wants to go over the next day, and everyone raises
their hand. That's the kind of people that are working
down here right now. They are devoted to their job and
helping people.

This is why we signed up.


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