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Despite 24/7 relief ops, Airmen find time to volunteer across Haiti

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti -- Airmen from Air Forces Southern and Air National Guard units from Kansas, Tennessee and Connecticut are working around the clock to bring much-needed food, water, aid supplies and sustainment to military forces in Haiti while extending their duty day to reach out to the local community. In addition to their day-to-day duties, Airmen are working with search and recovery teams, assisting with new road construction, volunteering at the University of Miami hospital near the airport and distributing donated items to injured children.

"Airmen weren't content to 'just do their job," said Col. Dan Courtois, the 24th Air Expeditionary Group commander. "Our services team organized activities for people to volunteer their time ... and the response has been overwhelming."

Some 24th AEG members are volunteering at the University of Miami hospital set up just outside the airfield. While there, Airmen distribute food and beverages, comfort patients and assist in maintaining the facility.

In addition to erecting tents, stringing lights and building plumbing fixtures for Airmen at the Air Force encampment, civil engineers are constructing new roadways to redirect traffic flow in front of the international airport. The site of the new roads were little more than dirt pathways until civil engineers took on the task to make these routes usable to vehicles.

"These valuable new roads will help to keep traffic moving in the congested area directly in front of the terminal," Colonel Courtois said. "Infrastructure improvements like this one are a big step in the process of reopening the airport to commercial traffic and our sincere goal of 'leaving it better than you found it' wherever Airmen deploy."

Other Airmen are volunteering for more somber tasks. At 6 a.m., Airmen board buses for sites where buildings have collapsed. The volunteers are assisting mortuary services teams in the recovery of human remains and personal articles. Lt. Col. John Connolly, Services Command and Control officer with Joint Task Force-Haiti, appreciates the extra sets of hands and eyes.

"Airmen are augmenting our mortuary services team at various locations," he said. "They're aiding in spotting, extraction and the dignified transfer of human remains."

Teams have assisted in more than 40 recoveries, helping with the dignified transfer of remains to families and loved ones. While working with rubble-removal crews, Airmen help to carefully sift through debris to ensure personal articles are recovered and remains are recovered without damage by equipment.

"This task is emotionally tough, somber, yet rewarding," Colonel Connolly said. "We're bringing these people home ... it's incredibly fulfilling work to know you've reunited these families and provided closure."

At the 24th Expeditionary Medical Squadron, Airmen are distributing items donated by Air Force families in the United States. Teddy bears, coloring and activity books and other children's items were given to patients in the EMEDS facility located across town from the airport. The gifts help to bring smiles to children's faces and provide a fun way for doctors, nurses and staff to interact with patients instead of concentrating on injuries sustained during the earthquake, the medical team explained.

The 24th AEG team doesn't know how much longer they'll be in Haiti supporting the task force, but as long as there is an Air Force presence, the commander intends to provide opportunities for Airmen in the community.

"Despite the workload here in Haiti, Airmen always seem to find time to 'give a little more," Colonel Courtois said.

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