Operation Uphold Democracy (part 1)
[Editorial note: Operation Uphold Democracy, lasting from September 1994 to March 1995, was a military mission authorized by the United Nations Security Council to return elected President Jean-Bertrand Aristide to power. Aristide had been overthrown by a military coup in 1991.]
86th Signal Battalion, Fort Huachuca, Arizona
A Company of Telecommunications Operator and Maintainers with supporting units on call for Haiti.
I being the only under enlisted female. I am smallest in size and height, but larger than life, from years of bullying.
The day the call is sounded. 5 hours to get prepared.
Go home, turn off all electricity, and give the neighbor all the perishables, grab all gear and put the car in the lot on post.
Go and stand in line to receive shots. Get a double dose of GG cause they believe it will stay in my system longer.
I am given salt tablets and malaria pills.
In another room, as an officer shows up to tell us “blah blah blah” and sends us off.
No one is there to say goodbye.
Grabbing a large rucksack to put on my chest, duffle bag on my back, sling a M16A1 rifle one way across my shoulders and a M60 accessory bag slung the other way on my shoulders. I grab another duffle bag in my right hand and a I.C.E pack (accessories for gas mask) in the other hand.
I walk alone up a hill over a block away. I feel a slight lift of my duffle bag on my back, as a sergeant whom I did not know, ran up to me to assist. He states, “You walked by and all I could see was the top of your head and your boots.” I welcomed the help and walked to the bus that waited to take us to the airstrip. I was thankful for his assistance, but wondered why being petite seemed weak?
The bus is full of soldiers and gear. A deafening silence fills the air.
We soon are at the airport and take everything out and get prepared for the flight.
We have our BDU’s*, boots, hat, a bag of changed clothes and essentials. I even have my bolt from my weapon in my BDU breast pocket.
Night falls, we are outside all lined up. Not until after 1am do we start to move to the aircraft.
Then the reporters arrive. They come over to me. I already know why, “Look, a young petite woman over there amongst all these troops.” Again the societal, I cannot be a soldier because I am a female, sad.
Question asked, “Are you afraid?”
My answer “No. I just want to get there, do my job and go back home.”
The reporters leave. I was not what they wanted. Not a surprise, really.
On the aircraft we go. Sleep moves in quickly.
It is cold on the aircraft. Commercial flight has nice seats, easy to get comfortable and not care about the future.
First stop, South Carolina. Have not been here since ’91 for A.I.T (Advanced Initial Training on ones MOS**) we stay for a couple of days.
Fly again on another commercial flight. Enjoy it while one can.
Land, we awake and still it has not dawned on us the implications of what and where we are.
The door opens on the aircraft. Heat, different from Arizona, moist, dirty, heavy….
A feeling of a time when I was a child overwhelms me; I walked out of a cavern back into the “real world.” How I wished to live in the cavern of clean air and water.
Tarmac. Stayed with the bags and drank 3 gallons of water in 5 hours. Heat is insane. Sweating and only went to the latrine once. My boots started turning white-salt. Decide to take a salt tablet.
The M35 2½ ton truck rolls up and we load all the bags. The weapons already were taken to Port au Prince. I and the some other troops climbed to the top and sat on the bags and slowly followed the convoy.
Haitians were dancing around the vehicles when we started to drive on the main road.
Palm leaves and Old Glory were waved about, with shouts, fists raised and much excitement was taken to the streets.
I was not told details other than a militant coup uprising against President Jean Bertrand Aristide was being taken out if the Haitian military leader did not agree to amnesty.
Our job is to assist in bringing President Aristide back to power.
It was as though the Haitians were happy about his return. I hoped so, or this “peace” time would become horrific real quick.
We get to Port au Prince. It is now taken over by our Special Forces. I was glad to see them, for my own father was in the SF 101 Airborne. I understood their involvement.
We climb off the truck, grab the bags and walk for quite some time till we get to a bay, which we do not stay for long in, and set up cots and mosquito netting. The fort is not finished. There are no bay doors; there is an unfinished floor full of sand fleas and no running water.
Our female Sergeant Major comes to wish us well. She has to return the next day to Arizona. She comes up to me and lets me know I can handle it. I have what is takes or they would not have chosen me to come with the rest of the company. That was a morale boost and again not. Why point out the female side yet again?
We are given back our weapons and a card of engagement:
“When leaving Port au Prince, be locked and loaded at all times. Shoot to kill any oppressor on the oppressed.” (What if the oppressor is the oppressed?)
Now it all starts to sink in. We are far away from home. No way to let anyone know we are “safe.”
Wondering for a moment will I ever leave here and in one piece?
I turn off my emotions and go back to fight and flight mode.
It will be a long 3 months.
I take my first malaria pill.
I hear a storm way off in the distance.
April Adams, an Evergreen alumna, is a member of the Inter-Tribal Warrior Society, the secretary for Veterans For Peace Rachel Corrie Chapter 109 Olympia, journalist, photographer, artist, and political activist.