Restoring hope to Haiti

Published 7:40 pm Tuesday, April 6, 2010

America’s military forces are known around the world for their professionalism, for their high level of training, for their readiness to go into any battle situation and excel.

Recently, though, members of America’s military came to be known by the citizens of Haiti for their compassion, for their selflessness and for their dedication to easing the suffering of their fellow man.

After that nation’s devastating magnitude 7.0 earthquake on Jan. 12, the United States of America responded by sending some of its most precious and able-bodied resources to the island nation. As everyone from schoolchildren to cell phone companies began fundraising drives to help those who were struck hardest by the earthquake, American military ships and planes began making their way south, loaded with food, supplies and — most important — people, who had been trained and had committed to help recover and rebuild the Haitian infrastructure.

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Early on, the mission was that of a rescue effort. But the ultimate goal was to leave the nation in a position that would allow volunteer and other nongovernmental organizations to fill the gap of the military when it necessarily pulled out.

On Saturday, the USS Bataan, the last of those precious naval assets devoted to the humanitarian effort by the United States government, returned home from an 80-day deployment to Haiti. It was an unusually quiet reunion, during which many of the 1,000 sailors and Marines aboard probably were thinking of the structures they had helped rebuild or those that were still lying in rubble, of the children whose lives the ship’s medical staff had saved or of the ones they never got a chance to help.

In a disaster of proportions as epic as those experienced in Haiti, there are going to be heartbreaking stories of lives lost because of last-minute decisions, of families torn apart by sheer circumstance. There also will be a fair number of stories of people who owe their lives to a quick-thinking stranger, of families reunited after all hope seemed lost.

Thanks to the crew members of the USS Bataan, Haiti has more than a few of those miraculous memories to help staunch the pain of their recent nightmare. Giving a devastated people hope again is one of the most important facets of humanitarian work. Ironically, it’s also one of the things the U.S. military does best.