Kansas Air National Guardsmen building critical infrastructure; Supporting Haiti relief operations

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  • By Tech. Sgt. Emily Alley
The bright clothing, smiles and conversation could be taking place in any hospital lobby in the world. Patients are being admitted, treated and released. But a flurry of French and the grinding of a helicopter nearby betray the reality - this is Haiti.

A brutal sun burns over the tent, while the floor is dust and rock. These patients are earthquake survivors who have just been flown from the USNS Comfort, the Navy's 1000-bed floating hospital that has been deployed to Haiti. A handful of Navy translators are helping them to find rides back to their families.

The Comfort is working at its full operational capacity for the first time in its service, and it would take a hundred more ships to treat all the estimated wounded in Haiti.

To help relieve the stress and suffering, Civil Engineers from the Kansas Air National Guard are working to expand one of the medical triage facilities in Port-au-Prince by assembling an Expeditionary Medical Support (EMEDS) hospital.

With the EMEDS in place, medics will be able to ease the pressure from the Comfort by performing minor surgery and 24 hour operations without transporting patients to the Comfort. But the Guardsmen are also are also building a helicopter landing pad to help transport more severely injured patients to and from the ship.

"I will take my hat off to the Air Force, who has done a great job since the day they got here," said Lt. Commander Robert Propes, liaison for the Comfort. "If there's minor surgery they can get it here instead of the ship."

By the end of January, the engineers had set up air conditioned tents and plan to eventually provide showers and latrines, which have been a luxury for relief workers. There is an informal consensus at the Port-au-Prince airport that the Kansas Air National Guardsmen are already heroes for bringing those facilities.

The civil engineers could complain about the cramped living quarters, lack of showers and long workdays. They taste the dust, they wear the sun - everyone has some severity of sunburn. But it's hard to complain when only a few feet from their camp is the city of Port-au-Prince, where earthquake survivors live in similar conditions. At least the Guardsmen know they have a home to go back to.

There are 40 members of the 190th Civil Engineering Squadron from Topeka and five members of the 184th Civil Engineering Squadron from Wichita deployed to build infrastructure for sustained operations in Haiti. Many of the Guardsmen were training at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, when the earthquake struck and deployed to Haiti approximately two weeks later. The deployment is scheduled to last for four months.