3rd Herd Airmen proving their worth in Haiti

The 3rd Combat Communications Group deployed to Haiti in early February to establish communications for various U.S. forces providing relief to the earthquake stricken area. The 3rd Herd, as they are called, deployed with 94 tons of equipment that has helped them provide their customers with consistent communications by working nearly around the clock. (Air Force photo by Margo Wright)

The 3rd Combat Communications Group deployed to Haiti in early February to establish communications for various U.S. forces providing relief to the earthquake stricken area. The 3rd Herd, as they are called, deployed with 94 tons of equipment that has helped them provide their customers with consistent communications by working nearly around the clock. (Air Force photo by Margo Wright)

TINKER AIR FORCE BASE, Okla. -- It didn't take long for members of the 3rd Combat Communications Group from Tinker Air Force Base to prove their worth in Haiti.

Within 26 hours of hitting the ground Feb. 2, the 31 Airmen from the 3rd CCG, or 3rd Herd, had established a communications headquarters and soon began providing deployable communications capabilities to other U.S forces in the earthquake stricken area.

"It was pretty rough when we first got here," Maj. Kenneth Bratland, 32nd Combat Communications Squadron commander, said recently via telephone. "The communications that were available when we first got here were spread out all over the place."

Major Bratland, whose deployable communications team also includes members of the 34th Combat Communications Squadron and 3rd Combat Communications Support Squadron, said his team arrived just before midnight and most worked through the night marshalling equipment, coordinating with base civil engineering and preparing their communications site.

"Within a day of hitting the ground, the Joint Task Force-Haiti asked us to provide communications to a very large Army unit," he said. "That was a huge stressor for us."

Major Bratland said for weeks his charges worked 16- to 20-hour days and often times well past midnight. His list of "customers," he said, kept growing by the day "because we brought more communications gear into the country than anyone," referring to the two C-17s they used to transport 94 tons of equipment.

"But," he said, "The guys have been great. I've heard nothing but praise for what we've brought to the fight. I've had people thank me repeatedly for the support we've provided."

In addition to providing communications capabilities, Major Bratland said his troops have gone above and beyond by volunteering to assist with recovery efforts at the Hotel Montana, where many U.S. military members were staying at the time of the devastating earthquake.

"We had a regular rotation going to the Hotel Montana, where we would provide four guys for several weeks," he said. "Some of them couldn't handle it after a while because it was very difficult when remains were found."

Many of his Airmen also volunteered to work shifts at the local medical facility, providing medical care to the wounded.

"We have many volunteers going to the [University of Miami Hospital's temporary facility] almost every day, sometimes two shifts a day," Major Bratland said. "Our guys volunteered during their off-duty hours in the neonatal intensive care unit. For some reason, the nurses down there like to see our guys holding babies."

One of those volunteer troops is Airman 1st Class Benjamin Bowles, a 22-year-old 32nd CBCS member from Coffeeville, Kan.

"Our mission has gone outstanding," Airman Bowles said in a telephone interview. "Because of all the training we received back home, we knew exactly what to do as soon as we got here in regards to setting up communications in a bare-base environment."
Of his experience thus far, Airman Bowles said he's definitely enjoyed it, adding, "It's nice to be able to perform a real-world mission."

Although the 3rd Herd has deployed to austere locations around the world for years, Airman Bowles is experiencing his first deployment since joining the Air Force a little more than two years ago.

"It's been nice to help out with the other volunteer missions," he said. "Being able to help the Haitian people has been fantastic. They all seem real happy to have us here. They've all been very kind and polite. They thank us a lot."

Col. Thomas "Tank" Byrge, 3rd CCG commander, said he's extremely proud of the Airmen who are continuing the proud 3rd Herd tradition.

"Their expeditionary excellence was obvious and noted by [everybody] they supported," he said. "Throughout the deployment, they have constantly added customers and extended services.

"All in all, this has been an outstanding deployment, rewarding for both the Airmen who deployed and those we supported."

Major Bratland said the Haiti operation validated what his troops train and practice for every day back home, adding, "We were prepared to operate in a bare-base environment and we were able to use that training to help other units who were not as prepared to operate in that kind of environment."

The major went on to say he expects the 3rd Herd's mission to end around the end of April and expects to have his troops back home around the first of May.