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Perfect Timing for USS Gunston Hall Crew to Help In Haiti

Navy NewsStand

Story Number: NNS100129-08
Release Date: 1/29/2010 3:49:00 PM

By Judith Snyderman, Defense Media Activity

WASHINGTON (NNS) -- Two days after a 7.0 magnitude earthquake struck the island nation of Haiti, an international team of naval officers and associated partners aboard USS Gunston Hall (LSD 5) in Norfolk, Va., for a maritime security exercise found themselves deploying in support of Operation Unified Response.

Gunston Hall was fully loaded with food for the exercise, scheduled to take place in sub-Saharan Africa, when Commander, Destroyer Squadron 60 (DESRON 60) Capt. Cynthia Thebaud received a call for the ship to assist in humanitarian and disaster relief operations in Haiti.

"Considering the unplanned nature of the embarkation, I don't think you could find a ship that has a better composition of people and things on board for this type of mission," Thebaud said during a Jan. 27 DoDLive bloggers roundable.

Among the European and African partners aboard Gunston Hall, were Nigerian Navy Capt. Jimi Osinowo, Ghana Navy Lt. Cmdr. Samuel Ayelezono, Italian Navy Lt. Cmdr. Marco Campasso, U.S. Navy Lt. Cmdr. Tim Labenz and Senegal Navy Lt. Assane Seye.

According to Thebaud, Haitian people were still in shock from the devastation in the aftermath of the earthquake, seeing people of a similar culture and background was reassuring.

"Language played a very important role in our contribution here," said Ayelezono. "Most of our crew can speak French, particularly [useful in dealing] with the local community. And they felt very confident in relating with us, and it proved very helpful."

Immediately after Gunston Hall's arrival at Haiti's Killick Coast Guard base Jan. 18, the crew assisted in turning a rubble-strewn soccer field into an impromptu helicopter landing zone for a Honduran medical evacuation team.

Ayelezono was able to collect information and document the identities of approximately 400 patients in need of critical care before they were separated from family and flown away.

The team provided other support in concert with U.S. and Haiti Coast Guard, U.N. forces, Honduran, Sri Lankan, Mexican and nonprofit group representatives.

Thebaud was impressed by the cooperative effort of all and by the public in need of assistance. She reported mob reactions to food distribution methods at some facilities were not an issue.

"I think it's a credit to the Haitian coast guard, the Haitian police, and to the integrated team ashore that we have not had any problems at the gates to the coast guard base," said Thebaud.

Each of the international African Partnership Station members who took part in the roundtable discussion said they had witnessed unforgettable, inspiring moments amid the enormous tragedy in Haiti, sometimes witnessing unexpected help arriving just in time to save lives.

Thebaud added the name of the ongoing humanitarian aid and disaster relief mission in Haiti, Operation Unified Response, aptly describes the conglomerate effort.

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