3rd Herd back in Tinker fences after Haiti duty

Members of the 32nd Combat Communications Squadron,34th CBCS and 3rd Combat Communications Support Squadron, Tinker Air Force Base, Okla. pose for a group photo early in their deployment to Haiti while the unit was at full strength. Members of the 3rd Combat Communications Group were supporting relief efforts in Haiti since February and the last remaining members returned home in June. (US Air Force photo)

Members of the 32nd Combat Communications Squadron,34th CBCS and 3rd Combat Communications Support Squadron, Tinker Air Force Base, Okla. pose for a group photo early in their deployment to Haiti while the unit was at full strength. Members of the 3rd Combat Communications Group were supporting relief efforts in Haiti since February and the last remaining members returned home in June. (US Air Force photo)

First Lt. Jake Cadwell, 32nd Combat Communications Squadron sets up a wireless link to the other side of the airport. Members of the 3rd Combat Communications Group were supporting relief efforts in Haiti since February and the last remaining members returned home in June. (US Air Force photo)

First Lt. Jake Cadwell, 32nd Combat Communications Squadron sets up a wireless link to the other side of the airport. Members of the 3rd Combat Communications Group were supporting relief efforts in Haiti since February and the last remaining members returned home in June. (US Air Force photo)

First Lt. Michael Capra, 3rd Combat Communications Support Squadron, Tinker Air Force Base, Okla., cares for a baby at the University of Miami Hospital, Port-Au-Prince airport location. Members of the 3rd Combat Communications Group were supporting relief efforts in Haiti since February and the last remaining members returned home in June. (US Air Force photo)

First Lt. Michael Capra, 3rd Combat Communications Support Squadron, Tinker Air Force Base, Okla., cares for a baby at the University of Miami Hospital, Port-Au-Prince airport location. Members of the 3rd Combat Communications Group were supporting relief efforts in Haiti since February and the last remaining members returned home in June. (US Air Force photo)

TINKER AIR FORCE BASE, Okla. -- At 6:42 p.m. the flight touched down at Tinker, having safely transported 14 Airmen with the 3rd Combat Communications Group. It had been almost four months since the Airmen left Tinker for their temporary duty in Haiti. While the total coalition forces mushroomed to some 22,000 at the height of relief efforts, these 3rd Herd Airmen were some of the last U.S. troops to fly away from the weary country and arrive home May 28.

Although their mission tempo had slowed in later months, following their Feb. 2 arrival in Port -au-Prince, the challenges of their duties were considerable to support Operation Unified Response.

At the pinnacle, the combat communicators provided vital communications to about 1,000 military personnel as they operated out of the Toussaint Louverture International Airport. They provided communications to joint forces that delivered aid supplies to local Haitians.

"It was just incredible to do it for real," said Maj. Kenneth Bratland, 32nd Combat Communications Squadron commander. "We saw the impact of what we were doing every day. The Army personnel we were supporting couldn't have done their job out there without us providing their communications."

For the last several weeks leading up to their return, the 3rd Herdsmen worked to ensure all the coalition forces could smoothly depart from the Port-au-Prince airport. Four to seven chartered military planes carried as many as 150-600 troops out of the capital city each day, as forces scaled back in the country.

But one of the biggest stressors for the combat communicators was from a mission that lay outside their routine duties. Every day, lines of people formed outside the rudimentary airport hospital nearby. All of the 3rd Herd Airmen helped in the hospital in some capacity, while the ones with EMT training took more advanced roles. Airmen with no former medical training received training from nurses on the spot, Major Bratland said. At one point, his Airmen were practically running the neo-natal intensive care unit of the hospital, due to dwindling medical staff.

"It was really good to help with some of the medical needs of the people while we were there," said Senior Master Sgt. Joseph O'Donnell, the flight superintendent for the Haiti mission. "(Our Airmen) saw some really sad stuff while they were there too. I know that was a challenge for a lot of guys."

"They were giving (intravenous drips) to babies and doing things they'd never be allowed to do in the States, but over there they just didn't have enough help and the guys were willing to do it," Major Bratland said.

The Airmen also helped recover bodies in the rubble of Hotel Montana, a two-month process that proved a physically and emotionally demanding task.

"Our 3rd Herd Airmen did an outstanding job while in Haiti," said Col. Thomas Byrge, commander of the 3rd Combat Communications Group. "They landed at around 2 a.m. and started working immediately to provide vital command and control to the airport and United States forces in Haiti. I am very proud of their accomplishments, both in our primary mission and in their ability to be Airmen, doing whatever is necessary to support the United States' effort."

The Herd originally sent 31 Airmen and 94 tons of equipment in support of the Haiti operations. They had gradually scaled back the personnel numbers and as of June 3, all 3rd Herd personnel were safely back within the Tinker fences. It was 120 days in theater for the longest-serving Airmen, but for all who went it will be a TDY that stands out among the others.

"It was rewarding to see that a lot of people worked really hard out there and made things happen. They just got it done," Sergeant O'Donnell said.