One month after the devastating earthquake in Haiti killed more than 200,000 people, a small team from Robins Air Force Base is on the ground lending a hand in humanitarian aid efforts.
The team is a Deployed Initial Communications Element, or DICE. The DICE is composed of six airmen from the 5th Combat Communications Group, a unit that deployed its troops in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina and sent airmen to Pakistan after a 2005 earthquake killed about 80,000 people.
They were sent to Haiti on Jan. 31 to support an emergency medical unit operating outside of Port-au-Prince, the nation’s capital.
The mission was a seemingly small element in the U.S. effort to bring relief to the country: establish communications for medical personnel. But when the unit arrived, it became clear there would be nothing small about its task.
“Initially, the first week was really busy,” said Capt. Joel Nelson, commander of the team, in a phone interview Friday. “We were working 22-hour days.”
The emergency medical personnel needed phone and Internet lines to relay messages.
“Mostly, the communications are between other organizations on the island,” Nelson said.
The DICE established 24 phone lines and 30 Internet lines — a veritable Silicon Valley for military personnel deployed to remote locations. The communications lines opened channels for medical personnel to coordinate efforts with other organizations on the ground, Nelson said.
The operation is now focused on simply maintaining the equipment.
“It’s pretty dusty here,” Nelson said.
The 5th Combat Communications Group is not the only Robins unit deploying its airmen in support of the Haiti humanitarian mission. The 116th Air Control Wing and the 78th Air Base Wing are supporting reconnaissance efforts, tracking the movement of refugees around the country. The 116th also has sent one of its airmen to help manage an airfield, ferrying in supplies to Haiti.
The Air Force Reserve Command, based at Robins, is helping to direct reservists who have volunteered to deploy to Haiti.
The 5th Combat Communications Group team expects to be in the country at least until the spring. They don’t seem to be complaining about being deployed.
“I feel really good about what I’m doing,” said Senior Airman Travis Meyer. “We’ve seen some needy people here.”
To contact writer Thomas L. Day, call 744-4489.