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24th MEU assesses situation in northern Haiti

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Small teams of 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit Marines landed in northern Haiti Jan. 24 to survey damage and meet with locals to assess the current situation in population centers that had not been evaluated for earthquake damage since relief efforts began last week.

The teams traveled to Haiti from USS Nassau using MV-22 Osprey tilt-rotor aircraft, marking the first time an Osprey participated in a Humanitarian Relief operation.  The Marines visited the towns of Hinche, Mirebalais and Belladere, while a fourth team which included Col. Pete Petronzio, commanding officer, 24th MEU and Capt. John Bruening, commanding officer, Nassau Amphibious Readiness Group, surveyed St. Marc after arriving in a Navy Rigid Hull Inflatable Boat. Marines met with the local populace, Non-Government aid Organizations, and U.N. personnel to determine the status of medical facilities, law enforcement, overall damage caused by the earthquake and gain awareness for what assistance, if any, these areas required.  Though these areas had minimal damage from the earthquake, Marines did encounter hospitals that were at capacity and in need of medical supplies. Hinche, in particular could use some assistance as they are beginning to see an influx of displaced people arriving from parts of the country that as more affected by the earthquake , said the Hinche assessment team leader Maj. Jon Hamilton, operations officer, Battalion Landing Team, 1st Battalion, 9th Marine Regiment, 24th MEU.  He estimated the number of displaced persons at less than 1,000. "Everyone welcomed our teams today. All the citizens and civilian aid organizations were receptive to our being here and helped us identify where there may be shortfalls," Hamilton said. The Information gathered by the assessment teams was forwarded to Joint Task Force-Haiti to aid in coordination of relief efforts throughout the country. Each team consisted of a team leader, medical personnel, engineers and Marines and Sailors of Haitian decent who were fluent in Creole and were already deployed with the 24th MEU-Nas ARG. Assessment teams will continue to evaluate areas in more remote locations where other units and organizations have not yet surveyed.  A key to this capability is the MV-22 Osprey and its ability to fly longer distances at faster speeds and carry more personnel than any other helicopter supporting relief efforts in Haiti. This versatility allows the 24th MEU to conduct relief missions from its sea and provides Joint Task Force-Haiti with an invaluable asset.