Coast Guard Foundation salutes Haiti earthquake responders

Coast Guard members salute their seniors as a sign of respect through a crisp raised hand salute. But a salute can also be an expression of goodwill, such as giving a toast or producing a special commemoration. Last night the Coast Guard Foundation showed both respect and goodwill, as they saluted the Coast Guard men and women who responded to the devastating earthquake that hit Haiti this past January.

The Coast Guard Foundation award was not presented to an individual or unit, but to every Coastie that responded in the days and weeks after the 7.0 magnitude earthquake. These components of Operation Unified Response included the cutter fleet, air stations, area and district support units, reservists and auxiliarists.

The Coast Guard Cutter Oak

The Coast Guard Cutter Oak, a 225-foot buoy tender homeported in Charleston, S.C., was one of the first responders in Operation Unified Response. U.S. Coast Guard photo.

Coast Guard cutters were the first on scene, mobilizing just hours after the earthquake. The crews aboard the 12 assigned cutters assisted thousands of injured people and delivered medical and other critical supplies. Cutters also acted as aircraft controllers to facilitate reopening of the airport and ensure the flow of vital aid shipments.

Coast Guard aircrews worked around the clock to transport more than 500 urban rescue team members who located and rescued survivors, as well as teams from federal and international agencies. The morning after the earthquake, an HC-130 Hercules provided the first images of the devastation, and air assets from around the country continued to fly overflight assessments that provided critical information to determine where to focus rescue efforts.

The area and district support units deployed personnel that further enhanced the response by manning 24-7 command centers and coordinating logistics to support those on the front-line. Support units also provided aid to communities by reconstructing communications networks, delivering food, fuel, water and medicine to orphanages and villages, and providing security for workers and evacuees.

IT2 Jose Estrada

Petty Officer 2nd Class Jose Estrada, an Information Technician aboard the Coast Guard Cutter Tahoma, rushes an injured Haitian girl to an awaiting Coast Guard HH-60 Jayhawk helicopter. U.S. Coast Guard photo by PA3 Brandyn Hill.

Within 48 hours of the tragic earthquake hundreds of reservists and auxiliarists deployed illustrating the service’s surge capacity. In total, 118 members of Port Security Units (PSU) from Florida, Washington and California deployed to Haiti. The units volunteered with local orphanages to provide medical attention to injured Haitians and helped rebuild a hospital. Members of the Coast Guard Auxiliary assisted the Unified Response by solving the problem of who needed help and where. Auxiliary teams collected information from various communications and internet sources and passed the information to command centers where rescue teams could be dispatched. These volunteer efforts, through innovation and technology, helped save lives.

The multiple resources and members who played a role in responding to one of the worst natural disasters in Haiti’s history represent the Coast Guard’s unique authorities and capabilities that makes the service so resilient when disaster strikes.

Bravo Zulu to all the responders who were part of Operation Unified Response. We too, salute you.

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