Leaving Haiti

Cover of the Koran

Cover of the Koran

I realize that last post left out the details of the QRF mission to the old Police Station, so I will start with that. As I stated, I had no idea why we went there. There was no riot, not problem, no emergency that justified commiting the QRF, unlike the numerous times we went to the POwer station. But, we went, we cordoned off the area, we searched it (it was abandoned) and then we cleaned it up. Yep. Soldiers from our Army went through, shoveled out the accumulated debris of decades and pulled out all of the contraband: there was none to speak of. One soldier went into MOPP Level Haiti: Rain Suite and Protective Mask. He was lowered into what must have been a sewer or something. We found lots of trivially interesting items like spent round casings and so on, but nothing that justified the search and cleanup efforts. Once we had the place ready for move in, we emplaced some more concertina wire and shuttled back to the main base in trucks. I queried the Battalion Commander about this and he stated that we had basically De-voodooed the big bad police building.

One measure of success for the United States was the ability to turn the mess over to the United Nations. After a couple months on Island we got word that this would happen relatively soon. The tented area on the far side of the Airfield had been populated by Guatemalan and Caribbean-Command soldiers. It was vacated, and soon a Battalion from Pakistan under the UN flag came to Cap Hatien. These were battle hardened soldiers from the Kashmir Region. As I mentioned, we were not carrying SAWs, never mind heavy machine guns. That was why it was strange to see them uncrate heavy machine guns and recoilless rifles.

My first opportunity to get to know our new neighbors came when a power surge fried the power supply on one of the computers in the Pakistani Battalion headquarters. Someone at Battalion asked me to go over and take a look at it, I guess since I was a Computer Science major at School. I was fairly sure there was nothing I could do. I’m not sure why the Battalion Signal Officer didn’t go over instead. Sure enough, the magic smoke had escaped the power supply and the machine was dead. There was a computer store in Cap Hatien, a fact that surprised me greatly. They were able to buy a new power supply off the economy and get the machine back up and running.

The better aspect of this trip was that I got a chance to talk to the Pakistani officers, see their quarters, and get a feel for them as a replacement unit. To this day I am grateful for the opportunity to put a set of faces, feelings, images and smell alongside the word Pakistan, even though I have never been to the country. Probably the most vivid mental picture I have is of the tents. The Pakistani soldiers slept on mats on the ground, really nothing more than insulation. Compared with our cots and the poly-pads we take with us to the field, it was spartan. I got the impression that this sleeping arrangement was the norm, not just in the field.

The officers from the Pakistani Battalion hosted the officers from our Battalion to dinner in their base camp.  After two months of Brown and Root, any thing would have tasted good, but I suspect that the meal we were fed would have competed with any India/Pakistan/Afghani food served in the States.  I’d never really understood the term feast before.  This was a Feast.  I remember most clearly the spiced lamb, but all of the food was superb.

I am nominally Jewish.  While in the Army, I was more observant than in the rest of my life, and have never really kept the fact secret.  The men from Kashmir were the first moslems I had encountered in my life, and I must say they made a stellar impression on me.  Beyond their fierce demeanor was a hosptiality and understanding I was not expecting.  When the matter of religion came up, I expressed my ignorance of Isalm and interest in learning more about it.  Capt Safraz Ali responded with a gift that means more to me than just about any other I have received in my life:  his personal copy of the Koran, pictured at the top of this post.  Here is his inscription:

Koran Inscription

Koran Inscription

People that might find it offensive to write in a holy book should remember that a true Koran is only in Arabic.  This version has translation into English, which makes it less than a pure Koran.  Thus it is acceptable under Islam to write in it.

The American forces were under very strict weapons control.  Before entering the base camp, we cleared our weapons, and then dry fired them into a barrel filled with sand.  It was understood that an accidental discharge of your weapon, even into the clearing barrel, and would get you into serious trouble.  The commander of the Pakistani battalion had an accidental discharge within the first week, a point that made some of the American officers snicker.  Personally, I suspect that they were just much more comfortable carrying weapons around, and didn’t take our over caution seriously.   Most of them had been in combat.  Very few of our soldiers had.

My last tour of tower duty had me checking on a tower inside the base camp, across from a mud-hut village that was fast encroaching on our space.  A woman on the outside was chatting up the tower guard.  When she saw me, she said, “Lieutenant, when you go back to America, take me with you.  Pakistani soldier mean.”  I guess we had done a decent job winning their hearts and their minds.

Not long after, we flew back to the states.  I remember pluggin MARC cards into the readers to create a manifest, a brief view of the airfield in Port au Prince, and that the flight crew on Tower Air were some of the same people I had seen on previous charter trips.  After a long flight home,  we disembarked at the Air Force Base alongside Pearl Harbor and took buses back to Schofield Barracks.   At Schofiled we had the Kiss-Ex: Ex being short for exercise, basically the reunion of the soldiers with their families.

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