The Marines are sending the 22nd Marine Expeditionary Unit, along with three large amphibious assault ships loaded with heavy lift helicopters, trucks and earth movers to support relief efforts. Despite having just returned from a six month deployment as theater reserve for Central Command, the 22nd MEU out of Camp Lajeune, NC., is packing up and will tomorrow for Haiti and expects to arrive early next week. Marines were recalled from post-deployment leave two days ago and immediately began crisis planning, said Marine Capt. Clark Carpenter, speaking to reporters by telephone.
The LHD-5 USS Bataan, one of the largest amphibious ships in the world, left its berth at Norfolk, Va., yesterday, accompanied by LSD-50 USS Carter Hall and LSD-43 USS Fort McHenry, and will stop on its voyage to Haiti at Camp Lajeune to take on around 2,000 Marines along with their helicopters and equipment.
Carter said the amphibs will take on a load of eight CH-53E Super Stallion heavy lift helicopters and four UH-1N Hueys, from Marine Heavy Helicopter squadron 461 (reinforced), along with a number of 7-ton trucks, earth moving tractors, water purification equipment that can purify seawater, medical and other humanitarian supplies. The Bataan carries three Landing Craft Air hovercraft in its well deck. “We can put tons of supplies ashore by sea, or we can move tons of supplies with our helicopters,” Carter said. The Marines will leave their Harriers and Cobra attack helicopters behind and there are no plans to deploy the MV-22 Osprey.
The Marines put out a call across the Corps for at least 40 native Haitians or Marines that speak Haitian to embark along with the 22nd MEU. During the Marines most recent pre-deployment work up period they trained two humanitarian relief operations that included working closely with the State Department, NGOs and government relief organizations. Carter said a number of officers and Marines in the 22nd are veterans of the 2007 humanitarian mission to Bangladesh, “that expertise will definitely be important.”
The Marines are preparing for a mission of at least 30 days and probably longer. One of the big advantages of having the Navy-Marine offshore “seabsase” is that teams can be pushed ashore during the day to provide needed muscle and medical expertise to the devastated country and then recovered at night to the ships where they are provided “life support,” and are able to rest. “That reduces the strain on an already strained infrastructure, and we have a great flexibility from those ships to provide command and control of the forces on the ground,” Carter said.