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Brian Luke Community Blogger, WGRZ-TV

Friday, November 5, 2010

USS Iwo Jima Stands Ready to Assist in Haiti

By Navy Lt. Jennifer Cragg
Emerging Media, Defense Media Activity

WASHINGTON, Nov. 5, 2010 - USS Iwo Jima, a Wasp-class amphibious assault ship, stands ready off the southern coast of Haiti to assist with disaster relief support, if requested, as a result of Hurricane Tomas.

Any assistance to the government of Haiti would be provided in coordination with the United Nations Stabilization Mission under the direction of the U.S. Agency for International Development.

The USS Iwo Jima is on a four-month humanitarian and civic assistance deployment called Continuing Promise 2010 in support of U.S. Southern Command, bringing health care and other services to communities in Latin America and the Caribbean.

"This is exactly why we have Continuing Promise missions out here," Navy Capt. Thomas Negus, commodore of Continuing Promise 2010, told bloggers and online journalists during a "DOD Live" bloggers roundtable today. "It uniquely helps us to be prepared for situations like this. I saw this firsthand how previous missions helped to save thousands of lives since the [Jan. 12] earthquake [in Haiti]."

Iwo Jima was near Suriname, the last of eight Continuing Promise 2010 port visits, when the call came to support possible relief efforts.

The U.S. military's "unique capability" is to provide rapid response assistance until able to transition tasks to other organizations, Negus said. "Our second mission has always been to be prepared for any natural disasters in the region while we are out here," he added.

Negus said Iwo Jima brings a "tremendous spread of capability" to assist the U.N. and USAID.

"The great capability that Continuing Promise provides is the rapid response we are able to support to a larger U.N. and USAID effort," Negus said. "We have plans -- as soon as the storm clears and it is safe to do so based on weather constraints and daylight -- to fly over the southern peninsula of Haiti."

The ship is off the southern coast of Haiti to provide logistic support to the mission and will assist with moving previously stockpiled supplies to the needed locations in Haiti, Negus said. Though they would be able to deliver all of the pre-staged items if required, he added, current weather reports indicate that the effects from the storm will be confined to a relatively small area.

"I am anticipating and hoping that it is much more localized," Negus said. "Current reports in [the Haitian capital of] Port-au-Prince are trending that way."

Negus added that all of their relief efforts will be in concert with U.N. and USAID relief efforts. "We are focused on the mission we have been asked to support, which is storm assistance and recovery," said Negus.

Iwo Jima brings a tremendous capability to the mission, Negus said, including 10 helicopters, two landing craft and upwards of 200 medical personnel, as well as an engineering detachment that could assist with engineering and construction capabilities and assessments, as well as civil affairs personnel from the Navy and Marine Corps. An additional component to the team is a 500-strong Special Purpose Marine Air Ground Task Force.

Negus said the greatest asset a ship provides to the mission is the flexibility to stand ready to assist and the capacity for partnerships with a variety of resources. He added that as soon as the storm clears, his crew would begin "immediate lifesaving and looking for isolated populations that might be cut off by crashed bridges or flooded roads."

His previous experience as commodore in Continuing Promise 2009 and the aftermath of Haiti's January earthquake have prepared him to respond to situations where humanitarian assistance is required, Negus said.

Related Sites:
USS Iwo Jima
Continuing Promise 2010
"DOD Live" Bloggers Roundtable

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