688 IOW Airman brings hope to Haitian orphans

Capt. Jose Linares, JTF-Haiti network engineer, deployed from the 38th Cyberspace Engineering Group, Tinker Air Force Base, Okla., helps children from the Foyer L’escale Orphanage fly kites during a visit May 8. Captain Lin¬ares and other members of the headquarters element of JTF-Haiti sent emails to friends and family back in the U.S. to send clothing and toys for the orphans of Haiti. (U.S. Army photo by Cpl. Jake Marlin/11th PAD)

Capt. Jose Linares, JTF-Haiti network engineer, deployed from the 38th Cyberspace Engineering Group, Tinker Air Force Base, Okla., helps children from the Foyer L’escale Orphanage fly kites during a visit May 8. Captain Lin¬ares and other members of the headquarters element of JTF-Haiti sent emails to friends and family back in the U.S. to send clothing and toys for the orphans of Haiti. (U.S. Army photo by Cpl. Jake Marlin/11th PAD)

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti -- Service members from the headquarters element of Joint Task Force-Haiti made a visit May 8 to the Foyer L'escale Orphanage in Port-au-Prince to deliver clothing and toys to Haitian children who would have otherwise gone without. Most of the children at the orphanage were left parentless after the Jan. 12 earthquake in Haiti.

Senior Chief Petty Officer Ralph Johnson, non-commissioned officer in charge of the Deployable Joint Command and Control system, organized the visit to the orphanage. He started looking for ways to help after he was impacted by an encounter with a child shortly after arriving to Haiti in January.

"There was a little boy outside the gate holding his little sister," said Chief Johnson. "She had already passed away and he kept saying he didn't want to wake her up because he didn't have any food for her, and that really hit home with me."

The service members spent the afternoon playing with the children and fitting them with clothing provided by several service members and civilians in JTF-Haiti. The children that live at the orphanage have had next to nothing since the Jan. 12 earthquake took everything away.

"When this started, I and several others in the Joint Task Force started emailing and Facebooking our friends and family, and they started sending boxes from all over," said Chief Johnson.

While some kids took time to kick a soccer ball around, others flew kites, danced, blew bubbles, and watched the show put on by their guests. Capt. Jose Linares, JTF-Haiti network engineer, deployed from the 38th Cyberspace Engineering Group, Tinker Air Force Base, Okla., has been to the orphanage before, but for him, this kind of mission never seems to get old.

"This was my second visit and I was astonished to see the changes they have made to the grounds." said Captain Linares.

The little girls of the orphanage ran around showing off their new shoes and clothes and the boys chased around the service members. For these kids, there hasn't been much to smile about the last couple of months. But, because of the initiative of a few service members, they got time to let loose.

"I think we did something good for the kids," said Captain Linares. "I think the kids are going to appreciate the toys, candy, and the clothes we brought."

After a couple of hours and a lot of laughs, the group shared hugs and a few tears as everyone said their goodbyes. For service members like Captain Linares it is a bittersweet experience coming to these orphanages.

"It breaks your heart." said Captain Linares. "You get to play with them, you get to run with them and then you have to leave; it's tough."

Thanks to the service members of JTF-Haiti, the children of Foyer L'escale Orphanage shared a little happiness. The little toys and the few pieces of clothing are a start to these kids moving on from the tragedy of the earthquake that took so many of their loved ones.