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Homestead offers respite for Haiti earthquake victims

by Tech. Sgt. Brian Bahret
Homestead Joint Information Bureau

1/21/2010 - HOMESTEAD AIR RESERVE BASE, Fla. (AFNS) -- Since the 7.0 magnitude earthquake that devastated Haiti Jan. 12, Homestead Air Reserve Base has become a staging area for aircrews to bring earthquake victims.

The base, located approximately 25 miles southwest of Miami, has become a hub for aircraft and personnel supporting Operation Unified Response. The activity is one element of the U.S. partnership with the international community to provide humanitarian assistance and disaster relief to the Haitian people.

"(Homestead) has been a focal point for the movement of people from the island to other places in the U.S.," said Maj. Sir Rodney, a 482nd Medical Squadron nurse who works night shift at Homestead's processing center.

Aircrews flying C-130 Hercules cargo aircraft are evacuating people from Haiti to Homestead ARB where staff and volunteers help the victims connect with relatives and loved ones.

Once the evacuees have cleared through customs, representatives with the Florida Department of Children and Family Services arrange transportation to the Miami International Airport where they can be picked up by family members or depart for another destination. Medical personnel also are on hand to provide first aid to those who require medical attention.

According to base statistics, more than 2,000 people already have been processed through the reserve base. Crews are working around the clock to help the evacuees through.

Although the work entails long hours, there was no shortage of volunteers to support the operation, according to Major Rodney.

"Most people really want to help," said the 23-year Air Force Reserve veteran. "They called me, and I said 'Just tell me when I need to be there.' As long as I could help out in some way, it gives me a sense of fulfillment."

Among the evacuees he met was a U.S. citizen who went to Haiti after seeing the devastation on television and reading about it in newspapers.

Rachel Florio, a Connecticut-native, said she had a very strong desire to help the Haiti community. On Jan. 17, she caught a flight to the country alone. She said her maternal instinct demanded action.

"I feel very fortunate that I have three healthy beautiful children, and I like to give back," said the publicist. "When I see someone in need, the first thing I do is reach out to them."

She said she never envisioned the reality of what she encountered. What she saw on TV did not compare.

"It was very scary, very dangerous and ... very horrific," she said.

She witnessed the wide-spread destruction left behind in the wake of the earthquake. She said people were buried alive beneath rubble. She saw many who were devastated by their loss.

During her trip, she offered as much aide as she could provide in the towns she visited, but said the experience was overwhelming as was the stench of dead bodies. "I couldn't stop gagging. It was so bad, the smell was so bad."

After three days in country, she visited Port-au-Prince where she was encouraged by an Army officer to return to the United Sates. It was at the Port-au-Prince airport where she, along with approximately 50 others, boarded a C-130 bound for Homestead ARB.

On the aircraft she continued her mission of caring for the Haitians. She said she doesn't regret her decision to travel to Haiti.

"This is something I had to do," Ms. Florio said. "At the end of the day, if you don't give back, what's the point?"

A father of three, Major Rodney agreed.

"Can you imagine if something happened to you in a natural disaster," said Major Rodney. "These could be your kids here, or somewhere. It's definitely a sense of pride to help out."

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