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Jan 20, 2010

By Reginald Rogers/Paraglide

FORT BRAGG, N. C. -- As of early Tuesday, Fort Bragg Soldiers have distributed more than 197,520 meals and more than 28,834 gallons of bottled water to Haitian citizens in the wake of last week's catastrophic earthquake, which has brought massive destruction and death to the small island country.

According to Fort Bragg officials, the post has already deployed 1,034 Soldiers, including those from the XVIII Airborne Corps, 82nd Airborne Division and other units that are now attached to the corps. Their mission in Haiti is to provide humanitarian support to the country's surviving population, most of which have been injured or affected by the earthquake in some way.

Fort Bragg is expected to deploy over 3,000 Soldiers to the ravaged country, in which thousands of citizens are still missing or feared dead.

"Our paratroopers and Soldiers are the greatest the world has ever known," said Lt. Gen. Frank Helmick, commanding general of the XVIII Airborne Corps and Fort Bragg.

"But it is also important to acknowledge that it is not just the Soldiers who make this post work and who make this JTF-Haiti support operation happen. We are blessed by a tremendous civilian staff in both the Garrison Command and the Mission Support Element which augment the military."

Helmick also acknowledged the role that Pope Air Force Base has played in the massive relief efforts. He said it is the incredible relationship between Fort Bragg and Pope Air Force Base that has allowed the XVIII Airborne Corps and the 82nd Airborne Division to deploy personnel, vehicles and supplies to assist the Haitian people. Equipment and personnel were selected to best meet the needs and priorities set by the Joint Task Force - Haiti commander.

"Our Air Force brothers at Pope are remarkable . and honestly, we could not do this without all of them," Helmick said. "We work very closely and while we wear different uniforms, we are one team."

Thursday's deployment included Soldiers from the 73rd Cavalry Regiment, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborne Division. Although the initial deployment was on short notice, it was business as usual, according to some of the unit's members.

"It's what we're trained to do, help people," explained Sgt. Charles Tisdale, also of Troop B, 1st Squadron, 73rd Cav., who's a native of San Diego. "It's always good to help anybody that we can."

Others echoed that it was an opportunity to ease the suffering cause by the quake, which was rated a 7.0 on the Richter scale.

"I think it's a great opportunity to go down there and do our part, using some of the resources that we have in helping those people out," said Abilene, Texas native Sgt. Nicholas Moore, of Troop B. "They really need it and I feel pretty honored that we get to do that."

According to the unit's first sergeant, 1st Sgt. Michael J. Ames, the unit's humanitarian mission in Haiti is as important as any of its previous combat missions. He said his unit is up to the challenge.

"It's extremely important for us to be the first ones from division to go down there," said Ames.

"To be able to provide assistance, aid or security, whatever needs to be done down there, is extremely important to us. We train for this and we prepare for this," added Ames, who hails from Moline, Kan. "This is not necessarily what we do in wartime, but it's something that we know we'll face someday. We're here to provide aid and assistance in any way that we can."

Leading the Fort Bragg contingency is Squadron Commander Lt. Col. Mike Foster, who said he is also sure his unit is prepared for the mission.

"We are certainly ready for what we're going to have to do. We were on a major training exercise yesterday that was supposed to go until the end of the month," he explained. "We got called out of the field and we've really been sitting around for the last 24 hours waiting for aircraft to go."

Foster's brigade is currently the unit that is assigned responsibility to be the first responder for the Army's global response force. He said it requires them to be ready to deploy on notice for any requirement that the Army feels is necessary.

"We're on a constant state of readiness for that and all of that preparation has made it a very easy transition to be ready today," he said.

He said the Soldiers who departed Thursday would be responsible for providing security.

"That security, I think, will initially focus around the airfield in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, but that could change over time," Foster explained. "The overall goal is humanitarian relief."

He said his unit was up to the challenge, despite returning from a deployment to Iraq less than a year ago.

"I think that's one of the great things about paratroopers," Foster said. "When you give a well-trained, well-led organization a task and purpose and you explain to them what the end state is of what you're trying to accomplish, they typically seem to adjust and adapt to that. I think our guys are well suited to do that.

"We're asking them to achieve things and produce results," he added. "Where and what those results are really is not the main focus."

On Thursday, more than 110 Soldiers boarded a C-17 Globemaster military transport aircraft with supplies and equipment, as part of the lead element of Fort Bragg paratroopers en route to Haiti to assist in the efforts.

The Soldiers, most of whom are assigned to Troop B, 1st Squadron, 73rd Cavalry Regiment, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborne Division waited anxiously at Pope Air Force Base's Green Ramp early Thursday, before boarding the plane and beginning their mission.

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