Guardians Report In: CDR Diane Durham

Commander Diane Durham

Commander Diane Durham

The following account comes from the Commanding Officer of the CGC Forward, Commander Diane Durham. The CGC Forward was the first U.S. military ship to arrive after the Haiti earthquake. These are CDR Durham’s accounts of the cutter’s operations since the day of the earthquake and come directly from her as she patrols off the coast of Haiti. We’ve included Coast Guard photos to try and help tell the story. As Guardians continue to report in from Haiti, we will do our best to bring you their stories here at Coast Guard Compass.

Day of the Earthquake (12Jan): FORWARD was in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, enjoying liberty at the U.S. Navy base. The duty section and off-duty crew onboard were jolted by unusual movement of the ship and quickly gathered to respond to an onboard emergency. We quickly learned that it was an earthquake… soon after we learned of the devastation to Port-Au-Prince (PAP), Haiti. The crew was recalled from various points around the base and we were underway by 10:00 pm. We made best speed through the night.

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti - Coast Guard personnel arrived in Haiti to assess the damage after an earthquake ravaged the island Jan. 12, 2010. (U.S. Coast Guard photo by CGC Forward)

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti – Coast Guard personnel arrived in Haiti to assess the damage after an earthquake ravaged the island Jan. 12, 2010. (U.S. Coast Guard photo by CGC Forward)

Day One (13Jan): We arrived in PAP harbor early morning, met by cheering from Haitians on the ships at the entrance of the harbor. We had to move our original anchorage point due to a heavy crude oil spill. The FORWARD crew was stunned at the level of devastation that could be seen ashore and the crowds gathered in open areas waiting for assistance. Once moored, the Haitian Coast Guard (HCG) boated out to tell us of conditions ashore. Some crew went ashore and witnessed the destruction of the HCG base buildings, the injured civilians needing critical medical care, and, unfortunately, rows of dead victims. This information was forwarded to relief coordinators so they would know the conditions they would find. We provided as much water and food as we could to the HCG to share with the civilians on their base. We also provided air traffic advisory for the Coast Guard aircraft performing damage assessment overflights and medical evacuations of the critically injured U.S. Embassy personnel. The FORWARD’s small boat was sent out to start port assessments to determine if relief supplies could be landed in PAP harbor. Hundreds of pictures were forwarded to let incoming relief ships know of the conditions in the harbor.

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti – A Coast Guard MH-65 Dolphin helicopter launches off the flight deck of the 270-foot Coast Guard Cutter Forward, Jan, 13, 2010. (U.S. Coast Guard photo by Coast Guard Cutter Forward)

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti – A Coast Guard MH-65 Dolphin helicopter launches off the flight deck of the 270-foot Coast Guard Cutter Forward, Jan, 13, 2010. (U.S. Coast Guard photo by Coast Guard Cutter Forward)

The helicopter assigned to FORWARD (from Air Station Detroit) flew a senior member of United Nations (UN) forces for a damage assessment. These are the comments from the mission commander: “He directed us over a hilltop base ‘Fort National’, it had also collapsed. They had been pulling out bodies and draping sheets over them. As the day drew on we saw more people coming to the streets and open area. At the end of the day all open/public areas were filled with homeless people. Maybe they were coming out in hopes of UN support for food and water. Maybe they were escaping their homes because they were unsafe. Maybe they were escaping the hundreds of bodies buried in the hillside communities. Tremors continue now, [my co-pilot] and I flew into the UN air base to coordinate possible refueling and lift operations. As we spoke to UN officials at Alpha Base the ground heaved up and down under all of us like the earth burped. They said “that was nothing” but I couldn’t conceive how the concrete ramp could move up and down while we stood there. In fact I don’t know how to describe what we saw today. Don’t think I can give justice to the grand scale of human suffering that is happening now as I sit well fed and cared for on the cutter.”

Day Two (14Jan): By this time Department of Defense was providing air traffic control for the numerous other aircraft arriving on scene. FORWARD departed PAP harbor to perform additional port assessments. Before leaving the harbor, we provided medical supplies as well as more food and water for those suffering on the HCG base. As we started to weigh anchor, two other CG cutters, TAHOMA and MOHAWK, started delivering medical supplies they had loaded in Guantanamo Bay Cuba and established a field clinic at the HCG base. We had a different, but just as important, mission… to explore potential relief delivery areas from PAP west along the north shore of the south claw of Haiti. There was not much infrastructure left to support the level of relief operations required.

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti - Coast Guard personnel arrived in Haiti to assess the damage after an earthquake ravaged the island Jan. 12, 2010. (U.S. Coast Guard photo by CGC Forward)

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti – Coast Guard personnel arrived in Haiti to assess the damage after an earthquake ravaged the island Jan. 12, 2010. (U.S. Coast Guard photo by CGC Forward)

Day Three (15Jan): FORWARD continued the critical port assessments in advance of arriving USN, international military, and relief organization assets. This time FORWARD focused to the north and west of PAP along the south side of the north claw… and found options with a major road open to PAP. FORWARD crews went ashore to assess the infrastructure, investigate reports of collapsed bridges, and determine if larger vessels could get in to deliver supplies. Many people came out to show the port assessment team what assets were available and the integrity of the infrastructure. There was very little damage in these areas.

Day Four (16Jan): As our port assessments were completed, we steamed to the Windward Pass to assume the position of a Commander Task Force. With surface and air assets, we have two missions right now. One – to pave the way for supplies to be delivered into the port of Cap Hatien (one of the many ports that will be used through the next few months). Two – prevent migrant smugglers from trying to profit from the misfortune of the Haitian people by putting them in more danger on the open seas in unstable vessels.

Day Five (17Jan): Our helicopter and a cutter crewmember performed damage assessment overflight of Route 1 from Cap Haitien to Gonaives (we already had completed Gonaives to PAP). This verified that relief efforts delivered to Cap Haitien can be trucked to PAP, it means Cap Haitien is a viable port. Our task unit continued to work with local Cap Haitien officials to pave the way for relief supplies.

Day Six (18Jan): Our helo performed medical evacuations from Killick Haitian CG Base to the Sacred Heart Hospital in Milot. The flight mechanic talked about two children on the first flight who wanted to hold his hand for comfort. In total, they transferred nine non-ambulatory people in stokes litters. The task unit continued its work in Cap Haitien.

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23 Responses

  1. uberVU - social comments says:

    Social comments and analytics for this post…

    This post was mentioned on Twitter by uscoastguard: CGC Forward’s CO recounts first week of Haiti relief operations #uscg #usghaiti #haiti…

  2. Katie Berryhill says:

    Commander Durham,

    Thank you to you and your crew for showing the Haitians and the world what America is all about. When people are in need, the U.S. should be there to help, and the Coast Guard exemplifies this more than anyone.

    Best wishes to you all.

    Katie Berryhill (former Capt, USAFR)

  3. Debbie Buzzerio says:

    I’m glad that you were not far from Haiti to be the first to arrive and help. My son who is a member of your crew was on the phone talking to his nephew when the quake hit, we figured that you would be going, but didn’t find out till the next day that you were there. We also have a nephew that is with the search and rescue team with the dogs left on that Wednesday for Haiti. again thank you for your quick response to help Haiti. You are the best

  4. Michael and Yari Dendariarena says:

    Greetings and blessings to US COAST GUARD and USCGC FORWARD 911 crewmembers from VINELAND,NJ. WE are very proud to have family member serving in the USCGC FORWARD 911, greetings to PO3 SAMUEL GONZALEZ RAMOS from MIKE & YARI. WE are proud to have you and the crewmember responding to and helping to this emergency in Haiti. THANKS GOD for all the people around the WORLD helping the people in HAITI. Again greetings & blessings to all the US COAST GUARD members and thank you all for your fast response in HAITI. GOD BLESS EVERYONE!

  5. Austin P. says:

    My little brother is on the crew of the Forward. I’m glad to see that the crew is getting to make a difference over there. Is the ship providing any water purification services for land based operations? Clean water is probably hard to come by at this point.

  6. Lynette Obermeyer says:

    I am proud of the USCGC FORWARD Command and Crew. They are perfect examples of the dedication the USCG has to protecting our borders and providing military assistance where needed. It makes me very proud to say that I am a USCG spouse. God Bless the FORWARD and all USCG members wherever you are stationed.

    Semper Paratus!

    Lynette Obermeyer
    USCGC FORWARD Ombudsman

  7. Binnie Jo Boggan says:

    My son is aboard the FORWARD, Matthew Cole and I am a proud mother and American due to what you and your crew are doing for the people of Haiti. My prayers go up for you, my son and your crew daily. My admiration also increases daily for your determination and bravery. May God walk with you in the days ahead.

  8. Kelly Kelso says:

    My Son in on the Forward. I am praying for everyones safety.

    Thanks for your service to our Country.

    Kelly Kelso

  9. Walter & Mary O'Connor says:

    Thank you Commander for this update and for all of the tremendous work you and your crew are doing to respond to this terrible tragedy. Our grandson in FN McCourt: We were speaking to him shortly before you left for Haiti. Our prayers go out to the people of Haiti for their saftey and recovery. We are proud of Evan and all the work of the Coast Guard. The world can now see how important your mission(s) are. God bless.

  10. RAY AND GINGER LAGCHER says:

    THANKS FOR ALL YOU ARE DOING COMMANDER DURHAM AND ALL THE CREW OF THE CUTTER FORWARD.WE ARE SO PROUD OF ALL OF YOU AND WE ARE PRAYING BACK HOME FOR YOUR SAFETY AND THANKING THE LORD FOR YOU BEING THERE FOR THOSE IN NEED–WE ALSO ARE PROUD OF OUR SON TIMOTHY WHO CHOSE TO BECOME A GUARDIAN OF THE SEA.—YOU ALL ARE MAKING A DIFERENCE

  11. Patricia Johnson says:

    We are proud of all the humanitarian efforts our military is providing to the tragic situation in Haiti. We are especially proud of all the Guardians serving in the USCG. Our son is a crew mwmber on the Forward and we pray for everyone working on this mission.

    Sincerely,
    AVTC A Johnson (retired)
    Patricia Johnson

  12. Stephen & Beverly Doody says:

    Our son Ryan P. Doody is aboard the USCGC FORWARD and we are so very proud of him, our prayers and thoughts are with you Son and with all of the other men and woman who serve this country with such pride and determination. Thank you Commander Durham, we are all blessed to have the United States Coast Guard “Guardians” watching over us.
    God Bless!!

  13. Dennis and Eileen Allard says:

    Our son, Steven Allard is aboard the USCGC Forward and we are so proud of him and all those on the Forward who are aiding in the Haitian relief efforts. May the Lord bless all of you as you minister to those who have lost so much.

  14. marc and marita liebesman says:

    To our son on board the Forward and all of the crew. We are proud and pray for all of you every day. You have chosen a career with guts! God Bless you! All our love!

  15. YAZMIN RODRIGUEZ says:

    Thanks commander for the update. I’m proud to say that I am a USCG Forward spouse. I have the crew in my prayers. Bless you all.

  16. Anna Clopton says:

    Our son has been on board now for four years and we are very proud of him as well as the entire crew.
    We thank you all for all the help you are giving to the people of Haiti and for the things you do everyday. You do make a difference!
    Anna and Kevin Clopton

  17. Karen Leetch says:

    My brother Steven Allard is stationed on the USCG Forward. We are keeping all of you in our prayers. Karen Leetch

  18. Emily Williams says:

    My son is also serving on the USCG Forward! Jonathon Hemphill. We are so proud of of all the men and women that serve in the Coast Guard. What a difference you make in so many lives! We love you so much, and pray for you daily. Continue to watch each others backs, and hurry home to all of your “other” families

  19. Kim Hunter says:

    So proud of everyone on the USCG Forward including my son SN Hunter. Know the days are long but you are making a difference!!! Praying for you.

  20. Lisa Bailey says:

    We are so Very Proud of the Captain and Crew of the USCG Forward for their quick response to the Haiti relief efforts. This was a Terrible Devastation with Horrible Tragedy. All the Men and Women aboard the USCG Forward are to be commended for a Job Well Done! All of you are Awesome and we are so Proud that you all are making a difference and continue to do so daily, monthly and yearly basis. ♥ I am extremely Proud to say that My Son-In-Law PO2 Kelly is among the Crew of the USCG Forward. We Love and Support Him Very Much and Pray for the safety of him and the crew ♥ Miss You James and Your Family is waiting on your safe return home. Thank you all for making a difference in so many peoples lives.

  21. Elaine Studnicki says:

    So proud of all of the Forward Guardians, especially my nephew Steve Pugner. Thank you for the update. I am comforted knowing we are in such good hands. God Bless and much love.

  22. greg sampedro says:

    Welcome Home USCG Forward, we are all very proud of the service that you have provided in your humanitarian efforts in Haiti! Congratulations to the Commander and her crew! Way to go Andrew!

  23. Hallmark1165 says:

    Great to see Forward still doing great job, keep it up Forward crew and THANKS for your service, wish i were there, miss the job.
    TT1 D.Hallmark, USCG (ret.) (Comissioning Crew)