Troops In Haiti Fight Biggest Battle With Heat With AM-Haiti, Bjt
CAP-HAITIEN, Haiti (AP) _ They came, they saw and they overheated.
Asked how operations are going, the standard answer by U.S. Marines who landed here is: ″Man, it’s hot.″
Garbed in heavy uniforms and carrying 50 pounds of gear, the Marines from Camp LeJeune, N.C., have battled dehydration and the searing Caribbean sun from the moment they landed.
A number of troops who came from the air-conditioned USS Wasp amphibious assault ship were lying on cots in a terminal of the dilapidated Cap-Haitien Airport hours after their arrival, IVs dripping fluid into their arms.
As the sun baked down on his shoulders Wednesday, Lance Cpl. Beverly Minnis of Seattle pushed a shovel into the soil of a freshly dug trench along the airport road.
″We’ve dug four trenches,″ said Minnis, sweat dripping down his face. ″Eight more and we’ll get it right.″
All the way down the road, pairs of soldiers crouched behind sandbags in trenches that will be their homes for the next few days, sunlight glinting off their M-16s pointed out at an empty field, a couple cows and a few curious peasants.
The Marines, like all the thousands of troops who have descended on Haiti, are hardly wearing the ideal outfit for temperatures in the mid-90s and unrelenting sunshine and high humidity.
Over a long-sleeved, heavy cotton camouflage shirt and pants go a 25-pound flak jacket and helmet. Dangling from the belt is a heavy cartridge bag with M-16 ammunition, a gas mask, a butt pack with rifle cleaning gear and MREs, two quart-sized canteens and a bayonet. A strobe light is attached near the shoulder and high black boots complete the ensemble.
″By the time you put everything on, you probably increase your weight at least 50 pounds,″ said sunburned Air Force Staff Sgt. Brian Bungard, 30, from Oberlin, Ohio, who arrived in the first wave Monday morning. ″And we’re not acclimated yet. I’m worn out right now. We were worn out before we left.″
Bungard, an air traffic controller, sat in a Humvee with a perspiring Capt. Tim Lemons, 29, of Peoria, Ill., monitoring helicopter traffic on the airfield.
Some soldiers also carry heavy backpacks with foam pads for sleeping, more rations and other essential equipment.
On breaks, they seek shade wherever they can find it - stretched out on luggage conveyor belts, leaning against posts or their rucksacks, reclining in seats of what was once an airport departure gate.
But mostly, they just cope with the heat.
″We’re prepared for this,″ said Lemons. ″And even if you’re not, you suck it up and drive on.″