Navigate Up

Operation Unified Response: Support to Haiti Earthquake Relief 2010

Narrative History of Operation Unified Response

USAID Haiti Earthquake Intensity MapOn the evening of January 12, 2010, a devastating 7.0 magnitude earthquake struck Haiti destroying vast areas of the nation’s capital, killing an estimated 230,000 persons, trapping many thousands in wreckage, and leaving over two million without shelter.
At dawn on January 13, under the direction of SOUTHCOM, elements of the Department of Defense arrived to provide assistance to the Government of Haiti and the United States Embassy. That day, the 1st Special Operations Wing arrived and reopened Toussaint Louverture International Airport, while the United States Coast Guard Higgins and United States military aircraft began delivering relief supplies and evacuating American citizens. 
The Department of Defense also ordered USS Carl Vinson, USS Bataan, USS Nassau, and USS Carter Hall to Haiti.  Recognizing the need to establish a command and control element for the rapidly growing force, SOUTHCOM established Headquarters, Joint Task Force - Haiti on January 14 to conduct Humanitarian Assistance and Disaster Relief operations in support of the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), the lead U.S. agency, and Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs), in order to mitigate suffering and save lives.  On January 19, SOUTHCOM established the Joint Logistics Command-Haiti.
Combat controllers from the 23rd Special Tactics Squadron at Hurlburt Field, Fla., talk to aircraft circling the Toussaint L'Ouverture International Airport in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, Jan. 23, 2010From its onset, JTF-H exercised command and control over military assets in support of the head agency, USAID, and a range of NGOs and the Government of Haiti to provide emergency disaster relief.  Joint Task Force - Haiti assisted in developing a robust SOUTHCOM plan for prolonged activities throughout the Joint Operations Area to address assistance and basic needs of the Haitian people.
The new headquarters rapidly assumed responsibility for joint forces and began to direct activities that would assist in providing timely relief to Haiti.  Immediately, 60 rotary wing and fixed wing aircraft arrived with elements of the 24th and 22nd Marine Expeditionary Units, the XVIII Airborne Corps’ Assault Command Post, and the 2nd Brigade, 82nd Airborne Division. An engineering assessment team determined the pier and wharf at Port au Prince Seaport of Debarkation (SPOD) were inoperable for the movement of bulk stores.  The next day USS Carl Vinson arrived off the coast of Port au Prince. 
These elements, together with members of SOUTHCOM, the 22nd Marine Expeditionary Unit, and the 3rd Expeditionary Sustainment Command formed the core of JTF-H that would lead efforts through the emergency phase and into the subsequent relief phase of the operation.  While the basic building blocks came from service members of SOUTHCOM, its components, and XVIII Airborne Corps, numerous other organizations mobilized personnel to fill JTF-Haiti with required specialties.  Working in close coordination with Embassy staff, JTF-Haiti focused on the immediate need of search and rescue along with medical care and humanitarian assistance.
 Military Sealift Command hospital ship USNS Comfort (T-AH 20) is anchored off the coast of Haiti Jan. 31, 2010. More than 1,600 Sailors and civilians aboard the ship have been supporting Operation Unified Response since arriving in Haiti Jan. 20, 2010. Medical professionals aboard the ship have seen 670 patients, 182 of whom have been discharged. (U.S. Navy photo by Chief Mass Communication Specialist J.L. Chirrick/Released)
On January 20 the hospital ship USNS Comfort dropped anchor and joined the relief efforts.  Comfort came equipped with surgical operating teams and orthopedic surgeonscapable.  By January 22, the U.S. military had a total of 13,657 personnel in the Haiti Joint Operational Area: 3,258 ashore, 10,399 afloat. 
On Monday, January 25, 24th MEU began distributing humanitarian assistance items and pushing medical assistance into areas northwest of the capital.  The 2nd Brigade 82nd Airborne helped support multiple interagency humanitarian aid distribution missions. 
By the end of January, JTF-Haiti controlled over 22,200 people both on the ground and off shore. Sixteen different distribution sites were established, U.S. forces were providing food and water, while continuing to provide available medical care to Haitians in need. On Friday, February 5, the U.S. government effort in Haiti transitioned from Phase I (Emergency) to Phase II (Relief) operations.
U.S. forces provided security in direct support of Humanitarian Assistance/Disaster Relief missions at camps being prepared by engineers and in the city itself, where efforts to remove debris from the streets were being led by military and civilian engineers of the Task Force.
Joint Task Force-Haiti senior planners and leaders worked alongside their counterparts from the United Nations, USAID, and other organizations to develop detailed plans for moving the Internally Displaced Persons that appeared to be in danger with the impending rainy season. Engineers worked with the United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH) to identify camps in Port-au-Prince that were in direct danger of flooding and mud slides.  JTF-Haiti conducted detailed assessments and executed plans to mitigate the dangers and reduce the number of people to be moved.  During this period, JTF-Haiti personnel were instrumental in searching the rubble of the Hotel Montana for remains of missing American citizens believed lost during the earthquake.
Marines and Sailors of Combat Logistics Battalion 24, 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit, off-load three Haitian patients from a MH-60, Feb. 5. The patients were transported from the USNS Comfort and recieved immediate medical care upon arrival at the interim aftercare facility in Port au Prince, Haiti.(U.S. Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. David J. Beall) The JTF directed Marines of the 22nd and the 24th MEU to work in conjunction with U.S. Navy assets to conduct missions to outlying regions of Haiti. Using the flexibility of USS Bataan and Nassau, the JTF Headquarters ordered U.S. Marines moved from one location to another where land based forces could not easily traverse.
The Marines brought relief supplies of food, water, medical supplies and shelter to thousands of Haitians in the outlying regions before the Marine amphibious group and USS Bataan and Nassau departed after two months of support.
On March 15, U.S. Army South (ARSOUTH) deployed to augment JTF-Haiti and on March 18, ARSOUTH conducted a relief in place and transfer of authority from the XVIII Airborne Corps.  When the 2nd Brigade, 82nd Airborne Division redeployed at the beginning of April, JTF-H retained 2nd Battalion, 325th Airborne Infantry Regiment as its primary Army Force (ARFOR).  The JTF continued to provide relief support in the form of shelter and engineering projects, while international partners took over responsibility for food and water distribution as the 2-325 redeployed.  This gradual drawdown of JTF responsibility was the planned end state of Operation Unified Response, but as the rainy season grew nearer, it was clear that the role of the US military and JTF-Haiti would continue through the end of May, when SOUTHCOM New Horizons exercises would provide the transition to continuing Theater Security Cooperation activities in Haiti.
From mid-March through mid-May, the JTF mission focused extensively on mitigating the dangers of pending heavy rains, floods and mudslides at the nine designated priority displacement camps in Port au Prince and also in supporting GoH, UN, USAID, and NGO partners in relocating displaced persons to transitional resettlement sites.  JTF-Haiti engineering operations resulted in the protection of over 37,000 at risk persons. 
U.S. Soldiers with Bravo Company, 2nd Battalion, 325th Airborne Infantry Regiment, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborne Division, Fort Bragg, N.C., hand out food and water to Haitians Jan. 22, 2010, in Port-au-Prince, Haiti for Operation Unified Response. (U.S. Air Force photo by Master Sgt. Jeremy Lock/Released) Additionally, JTF personnel worked to improve the infrastructure at Toussaint Louverture International Airport.  Through these efforts, JTF-Haiti postured for a seamless transition to the newly created SOUTHCOM Coordination Cell and follow-on Haiti relief operations and Theater Security Cooperation activities represented by the New Horizons Exercise.
The Airmen, Coastguardsmen, Marines, Sailors, DoD Civilians, and Soldiers of JTF-Haiti recorded historical levels of accomplishments. The combined medical efforts of the USNS Comfort and the medical teams on the ground treated over 9,000 patients, to include conducting 1,025 surgeries. They evacuated 255 patients to hospitals, while filling over 70,000 prescriptions.
The combined forces of the U.S. Air Force and U.S. Army assumed responsibility for the airport and had it operational within 30 minutes of arriving in Haiti, and only 28 hours after the quake. At its peak, the Air Force controllers handled over 150 flights per day, bringing in over 3.5 million tons of cargo and training Haitian authorities until they were able to take over operation of the airport. The sea port was virtually wiped out by the quake, yet teams of divers, logisticians, engineers and workers under the control of Joint Logistics Command - Haiti were able to clear the debris, clear the harbor and put the port back into operation. 
In spite of severely damaged docks, the port doubled its capacity through JTF assistance and projects, allowing the offload of over 8,500 containers totaling over 10.2 million short tons.  Navy and Army divers repaired the damaged south pier in record time and by mid-March the port was turned back over to Haitian authorities.  Joint Logistics Over-the-Shore operations coordinated by the JTF and led by the JLC brought much needed supplies from ships anchored offshore to the beaches via landing craft, amphibious vehicles and hovercraft. JTF helicopters from the Army, Navy and Marine Corps flew every day, bringing in supplies from ships and transferring patients.
The main mission of the JTF was to provide humanitarian support to the people of Haiti.
PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti (Feb. 18, 2010) -- A soldier from the 82nd Airborne Division walks in a tent city in Port-au-Prince, Feb. 18. The soldiers were working with a civil affairs team from U.S. Army Special Operations Command that was assessing medical, shelter, food and water needs to facilitate humanitarian assistance in the area. (U.S. Air Force photo by 2nd Lt. Victoria Brayton/Released) By the end of May 2010 over 4.9 million meals, 17 million pounds of bulk food and 2.6 million bottles of water had been delivered to the people most in need. Over one million people received emergency shelter, while more than 80 blocks of debris-covered streets were cleared and over 40,000 buildings within the city were assessed by JTF engineers.  Under the auspices of a comprehensive SOUTHCOM theater security cooperation (TSC) plan, JTF-Haiti developed a detailed plan to transition to an enduring US military presence in Haitian reconstruction and relief efforts in the form of New Horizons exercises, medical readiness training exercises, and other activities, which will provide construction projects and medical relief missions in rural departments.

The efforts of Joint Task Force-Haiti contributed immensely to international relief efforts in the largest disaster response mission in modern U.S. military history.  The ability of the command to orchestrate its efforts with USAID, the United Nations, and numerous international relief agencies provided balance and efficiency in all aspects of its missions.  The actions and accomplishments of JTF units under the seamless control of the headquarters relieved suffering and saved lives in a country devastated by natural disaster.  

By the Numbers: U.S. military efforts in Haiti

Support of Humanitarian Assistance and Disaster Relief
  • U.S. Military personnel (peak level): 22,268
  • U.S. Navy ships: 23
  • U.S. Coast Guard ships: 10
  • Fixed-wing aircraft: 264
  • Helicopters: 57
  • Liters of water distributed: 2,600,000
  • Humanitarian rations packages distributed: 2,900,000
  • Bulk food delivered (pounds): 17,000,000
  • Meals-Ready-to-Eat delivered: 2,700,000
  • Emergency radios distributed: 73,300
  • Hours of emergency radio broadcasts: 660
  • Supported distribution of emergency shelter to 1,170,000 people
  • Supported 16 World Food Program distribution points.
  • Supported development of two transitional camps and improvements in nine camps
Logistical Assistance
  • Internally displaced persons (IDP) relocated from high flood risk areas: 3,884
  • Number of DoD-coordinated flights into Haiti and neighboring Dominican Republic from January 12 to March 15, 2010:  3,989
  • American citizens transported out of Haiti: 16,412
  • Air delivered relief (pounds):  More than 36 million
Medical Assistance
  • U.S. government medical personnel in Haiti (peak level):  1,100
  • Number of hospital beds provided (peak level): 1,400
  • Number of patients aboard all ships (peak level):  543
  • Pounds of medical supplies delivered: 149,045
  • Surgeries performed by U.S. military: 1,025
  • Medical evacuations:  343
  • Patients treated by U.S. military: 9,758
Engineering Assistance
  • Number of Haitian engineers trained: 160
  • City streets cleared of rubble (cubic yards): 12,724
  • Number of structures assessed: (Current as of 23 April 2010):  25,522
  • Seaport Flow:  Port re-opened on January 22, 2010 with U.S. Military assistance
  • Ship containers off-loaded: Twenty-foot Equivalent units (TEU): 8,867
Airport Flow Pre/Post-Earthquake
  • Pre-quake average was 20 flights per day
  • Post-quake peak capacity of 168 flights in one day
  • Airport Timeline:
    • January 13: U.S. Military re-opens airport at request of Government of Haiti and begins 24/7 operations
    • February 18: Government of Haiti begins gradual assumption of air traffic control duties
    • February 19: Commercial flights resume
    • March 16: Government of Haiti resumes full air traffic control of airport


Multimedia products
Department of Defense photos, videos and other multimedia products from Operation Unified Response can be found at the DefenseImagery website or at the DVIDS site.  Search for "Haiti Earthquake" or "Operation Unified Response."
Selected Articles (by topic)
Leadership insights
The following is a selection of blog posts that provide insights of some participating U.S. military leaders during Operation Unified Response:


SOUTHCOM's Social Media