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The Norfolk-based guided-missile cruiser USS Normandy (CG 60) is supporting relief efforts in the air, at sea and ashore for victims of the devastating earthquake in Haiti.
U.S. Navy Capt. Jeffrey T. Griffin, Normandy's commanding officer and U.S. Navy Lt. Cmdr. Michael Hansen, officer-in-charge of Helicopter Antisubmarine Squadron Light (HSL) 46 Detachment 3 "Screaming Seagulls" spoke to bloggers and blogger journalists during a Jan. 22 "DoDLive" bloggers roundtable.
Normandy arrived off the coast of Port-au-Prince, Haiti Jan. 17 to support Operation Unified Response-Haiti, the U.S Southern Command-led operation to provide humanitarian assistance and disaster relief to the people of Haiti.
The ship received a call the night of the earthquake and was on their way to Mayport, Fla., to pick up the helicopter detachment within 15 hours of the initial call.
Immediately upon arrival to Haiti, the pilots from Helicopter Anti-submarine Light (HSL) 46 Det 3 began utilizing the two embarked SH-60B helicopters for transport of water, food, and patients to medical facilities.
"The mission of the Normandy is twofold," said Griffin. "We are heavily using our embarked helicopters to move patients, transport food and water and to transport people. The ship, which is normally used for air defense, is acting as the only air surveillance radar at sea."
Griffin added that the Normandy is tracking and then reporting to the rest of the ships all of the aircraft operating in the area.
"They're doing what they're trained to do, and they're keeping a very good air picture of all of the aircraft to prevent any type of a midair collision, to sequence the aircraft properly into Port-au-Prince," Griffin said.
In addition to providing air surveillance, the Normandy serves as a refueling platform for any other helicopters operating in the area. "If they needed to be refueled, if they needed any type of emergency landing pad, we provide that as well," Griffin said. "We're always here, standing by with our crew, with our ship's boats to be able to conduct a search and rescue at sea if called upon."
The SH-60's have flown more than 50 hours since arrival and have delivered more than 600 cases of water, 800 cases of meals and have accomplished 17 medical evacuations.
"We have moved over 100 passengers," Hansen said, "those include security forces, military personnel, media and various relief agency workers."
He said their goal is to get every person to the places their skills can be used.
Hansen also said that typically an HSL helicopter detachment doesn't operate over land, so they are learning lessons as they go along that will help them in the future for other humanitarian efforts. These lessons include how to maximize the number of people they transport and using methods to ensure the safety of everyone on the helicopter.
There have also been moments that have helped the crew realize how important their mission is, Hansen said. The crew flew to a remote area to rescue an infant with pneumonia and was able to transport the infant and his mother to Port-au-Prince to get care.
"The littlest victims of this earthquake probably break your heart the most," Hansen said. "But it's nice that we were able to provide assistance."
Hansen added that the crew of the Normandy will be "here until the mission is done. And, we're happy to be able to contribute to helping the people of Haiti."