The Velvet Hammer
Bad Gods - Haiti Earthquake
This is a potential book I am considering. Here is a glimpse...
The Haitians believe that if good things happen to you then the "Good Gods" are responsible. Likewise they also believe that if bad things happen to you the "Bad Gods" are the reason. On this mission to the most medieval place I have ever seen, and on the heels of the 2010 earthquake. My fellow operator and friend "Bravo" and I became both good and bad Gods to the people of Haiti. To the innocent we were there to help and extended love and compassion, and to the evil which were many, we were there to make right the many wrongs and bring home kidnapped children at any cost.
0n January a 7.0 earthquake rocked the Haitian capital killing an estimated 250,000 people, injuring 300,000 more and displacing over 1 million already destitute and impoverished folks. It is credited with being the largest natural disaster in recorded history and has been the catalyst for billions of dollars in relief. This single event has effected an estimated 3 million Haitians in some form. Perhaps the most stunning part of this story is the personal effect it had upon me and the doctors, nurses and translators that went into that country in our Task Force to provide medical relief, protection, rescue operations and the recovery of a kidnapped three year old American boy. It is important to note that during the earthquake virtually the entire government of Haiti including the President were crushed and killed while holding meetings in the palace. Furthermore the main hospital training facility where over one hundred doctors and nurses were located collapsed, eliminating the medical capability in Haiti to a handful of medical locals.
This story is based on my personal experience as a volunteer in Haiti on the heels of this incredible disaster. It is an inside look into the minds and hearts of the other volunteers. It is about the sights, sounds, smells, missions and the reality of Haiti, my reality while there.
This story is not indented to capture other task force members feelings, experiences or perspectives. It is based on how I saw the world there and afterwards, it is solely based on my own interpretation of trauma viewed and experienced by me personally and through my own filters.
As the Chief of Security for our Task Force and as a professional Body Guard for High Risk Areas I see the world most of the time completely different than a doctor or a nurse. This unique view was a powerful differentiator as we attempted to protect folks that were at times very naive to the real danger in country, and is in large measure what makes this writing so very unique.
A simple Facebook post let me know about the opportunity to go to Haiti about a week and a half after the quake. I looked up the registration website for this specific Task Force and put my name in the hat. There was just enough room to put a couple lines of data in the “background” section of the online form and that made it challenging at best to put some of my diverse skills into the application. The day came for selection and nearly a thousand people had applied for just over one hundred slots. I did not make the cut. When the weekend rolled around I was sitting at my desk in my home office and the thought came to me to re apply through the “info” email address. I attached my digital two page Military, Rescue, Medical and Body Guard resume and sent it off.
My brief email said this:
“I have an unconventional background in the Military and Rescue communities and have built successful multimillion dollar businesses. I am highly effective at identifying the key obstacles to success and then laying the groundwork and organizing the forces needed to overcome them while operating on thin resources. I have a proven track record of achieving significant results and consistently surpassing goals in very challenging assignments ranging from Military Operations/Training, Search and Rescue/Recovery Missions to include several forms of Civilian and Tactical Voice/Data Communications.”
To my surprise I got a response within a couple minutes. The email was simple and said basically that I was going to Haiti on the first deployment denoting there might be followup missions and that I was to be in charge of security. No information on for who, how many, guns, my team or anything else. It was the first evidence that this was a fast moving hard charging mission that would never slow down in tempo and only get more intense by the day.
Do I really want to be a body guard?
We soon found out that the man running the mission and the one who wrote me back online and hired me (as a volunteer) was a prior diplomate and advisor to the late President Reagan and Bush 41. He was a maverick and completely willing to load up as many people as he could and drop them into the most primitive and overcrowded of places. He was able to accumulate large donations of money, time and medical gear. I would find that while in country he was unstoppable and completely committed to doing good. As his personal body guard in country and his head of security (it was a pleasure to be “organic ballistic protection” for him) I would get to know him at a personal level. He wasd top notch people.
To become a Body Guard for High Risk Areas there are a few ways to do this. The U.S. State Department and several Private Military Contractor firms run a Private Security Detail (PSD) course that teaches operators how to not only protect an individual, but how to drive fast, get out of harms way, save lives medically, escape captivity and many other skills. In 2010 I attended a course through a company called Crisis Response International (CRI) founded by an Israeli Operator. This business owner and commando had a smooth calm exterior that is reminiscent of a bond figure sporting a Hebrew accent. Underneath all of this smooth and controlled skin was a deeply intelligence, thoughtful and down right dangerous man.
In 2010 I was invited loosely to Afghanistan for a PSD detail to protect a high speed U.S. State Department asset. The invitation came as often they do by someone who knew me personally and referred me as “good people”. The short of it was that I needed a PSD equivalent certification or experience. During the hunt I searched the internet and spoke with some buddies. I ended up calling CRI and spoke with the owner and founder. Surprisingly enough he knew me from a Shot Show a few years back when he and Bravo and I locked eyes during one of our rounds at the show. He remembered me because as he said “I was not full of bull ....”. I laughed at that and agreed that perhaps that was a good evaluation.
The course lasted a couple weeks and was intended to education would be or existing operators on the dynamics of every aspect of a Body Guard detail. We shot lots, did hand-to-hand brutally, drove fast and crashed cars. They tortured us literally in captivity and we learned the ins and outs of making Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs). These was a very strong medical component to the class with casualty evacuation being a priority. We shot from helicopters , road motorcycles, shot from trucks, cars and anything that had a wheel.
For me at middle age the course was exhausting. At the beginning of the program you were given a stress test wherein many people would throw up their stomachs. After a strenuous series of exercises such as carrying heavy objects, low crawling, running in place you would then be required to shoot at different colored balloons they would call off. This went on until they were satisfied that you were sufficiently smoked. That exercise began the course and was the source of soreness for days to come.
Included was motorcade, more hand to hand, shooting and more bad guy take downs in every possible form and style. The training was flat out effective and when I graduated with my numbered badge and Identification that spoke of using “unconventional means to accomplish the mission” I was ready for a high risk deployment.
The why of becoming a body guard for me went way back though to my youth. My father was a Los Angeles Police officer from 1961 to 1984. He was my model of a true hero who at times donned the uniform every day and went into the violent streets of the city of angels.
I recall as a young boy thinking about how much my father epitomized the best qualities of the western movie or marvel superhero. I remember being worried about him often when big events hit like the SLA shootout with patty hurst, or a SWAT callout. My father was a Metro cop for many years in the 1960’s when Metro was feared by the bad guys. They were the Special Operations Police of the time and the original plank owners of LAPD SWAT.
My fathers effect on my life cannot be over stated. He went into the fight every day for over 24 years in a thankless environment. He taught us right from wrong and I saw him not only teach with his lips, but move into danger to back it up. I was going to be a good guy also at what ever cost.
We grew up in a small town called Lawndale California. It was part of LA County and was in an area called South Bay. It bordered towns like Hawthorne, Redondo Beach and Compton. We had whites, Mexicans, Asians and African Americans. My high school was violent and mixed culturally. This for the most part was a good thing as it taught me at a young age not to judge only by color, but by what people do. We had in out neighborhood veterans of WWII and Korea. Vietnam was at its high when I was playing Army in our fields and my neighbor was nearly killed there and came back with that funny look in his eye. He had lost many friends during his near fatal ambush and was thin and gaunt. My next door neighbor of 30 years drove an LST onto the beaches of Iwo Jima where is was stranded for 24 hours while under constant fire. My whole world was born under the umbrella of soldiers, police and veterans of world conflict. My streets were full of the same, but for a different purpose. Gangs shot each other on our street. In fact one night the sound of gunfire rang loud and I got on the ground. My young curiosity got the best of me so I turned of the interior house lights and opened the curtain to witness two fatalities from rival latino gang wars. The dichotomy of street violence from war veterans was interesting to me. One sought to help another at the peril of his own life, and the other sought to mark turf with local blood and carried a spirit of vengeance. Deep seated respect for one and distain for the other was the overwhelming result.
I joined the United States Air Force and served honorably for over ten years. My brother became a cop like dad and as of this writing is still on patrol and teaching under his private company at three major state academies. Even though we both went our own way, both ended up becoming what some would call “sheep dogs”.
During my 11 years in the Air Force I was involved in intelligence, combat communications, close air support, special operations and the “get me the heck outta hear” desk at the end of my time. For the most part I enjoyed my service, but to be candid never felt like I really made a huge difference while in the service.
Some of the formidable experiences that shaped my are found in very few experiences. The first would be during my first assignment of intel. My then commander would eventually become the director of the National Security Agency (NSA) as well as a three star general. Little did I know then how the world worked, but he was very connected and being groomed for big things to come. We basically picked targets for the field commanders in the mid 1980’s. The term used was “Tactical Intelligence” and it was a fish bowl experience with extreme levels of scrutiny all the time. I was one of four communicators and was responsible for communicating inbound and outbound summaries and other various pieces of information. It became clear to me early on that we would win or loose a fight largely based on this vital information that was protected at the highest levels.
After a couple years under the looking glass, I became a Tactical Air Controller with a close air support unit and was attached often to U.S. Army units to provide Air Tasking Orders (ATO) and air strike data. Dropping the bombs on bad guys to me was much more sexy than spook information or spy craft. I like the dirt, mud and grit of this unit. It was here I got some real good advance training in tactics, combat driving, other communications systems and overall big Army doctrine in how we prosecuted a war in those days. The United States was active in Central and South America in those days and I got my fair share of supporting the fight against communism in the mid 80’s down south.
From there it was to Europe and a four year tour of duty. It was here I would see the Berlin Wall come down, The Russian War in Afghanistan wind down and my best friend and fellow airmen nearly killed in the middle east.
After my European tour I quickly found a new home in the Dakotas at a B-1 Bomber base. I was seating at a desk job and highly unhappy. I was on the war path to get back into the field and had been selected for Combat Control Duty at age 33. The Physical Agility and Stamina test was not new to me and my preparation paid off. My swim time was college competitive, I maxed my calisthenics, but my run time was a few points shy of max score. Nevertheless I was selected and had orders to Lakeland for the indoctrination course. It was right then that the Air Force was offering incentives to separate early as they sought to balance the force. I excepted the early out and cancelled my orders for greener pastures. I became a full time civilian.
A few years prior to my exit I was in my unit one day and a guy walked in with a Land Mobile Radio (LMR) on and was monitoring it. I asked what he was listening to and he quickly replied that he was monitoring Search and Rescue (SAR) frequencies. Our discussion became my nearly six year involvement with the Search and Rescue (SAR) Team and then a little later the Dive Rescue Team. In the half dozen years we fielded hundreds of high speed trauma calls in many climates, terrains and weather. The South Dakota landscape is unique for mountain, desert, high prairie and water. The volatile weather and 3 million visitors a year to Mount Rushmore and the Sturgis Rally make it an ideal place to sharpen vertical rescue, vehicle extrication, medical and other technical rescue skills.
I became a SAR instructor and then later a Public Safety Scuba Instructor (PSSI) for Dive Rescue International. I loved the rescue work and felt like I was making a difference for the first time in a long time. Outside of the dead bodies there was a real chance to help someone who literally could not help themselves. Some of the calls were extremely challenging and hard to deal with. During my time I recovered bodies in fast moving rivers, open water, under the ice, out of burning homes, vehicles and from the bottom of may cliffs. This forged in my a keen awareness of the brutality of this life and the fact that literally in a second you could be the victim of a life or death event regardless of who you are.
As I separated from the service and got into business I eventually moved out of South Dakota and left the team. I had accumulated years of experience as a incident commander, instructor and operational rescue/recovery diver and SAR specialist. This combined with my military experience would be a great asset to the mission in Haiti and would mitigate the shock for me of the extreme conditions on the ground.
As we circled the Haiti peninsula there were no visible lights on the ground other than a few lanterns and some generator runway lights provided by a small contingent of the United States Air Force. We were told while were approaching Haiti that our compound had been over run by gangs and was no longer usable.
On our last stop to get gas before our final leg we were in communication with a company of the 82nd Airborne division. They were located in a small soccer field and were performing food drops with 100 pound bags of U.S. marked rice and beans. Our Task Force commander asked the Captain if they needed anything from us and the word came back in a joking way “Pizza”. We pulled out all the stops and got local Carolina cops to escort a pizza drop to the active flight line in order to delivery it by hand when we got in country.
The results of this crazy move by our bold commander and my American Express card was that we were able to secure a place with the 82nd at this field. They would eventually provide vital transportation services to our medical teams as well as perimeter security.
As we circled the Port of Prince airport waiting for clearance from our Air Force ground controllers I was sitting in the front of the aircraft with the commander on my left across the isle and a pediatrician on my right. The doc on my right looked at me and asked if we were going to be ok in country and if I was scared. I told him we were all concerned but that the time to worry had passed and now it was game time. “do what I say” I said and we will all be just fine. He would prove to be one of the best docs we had and bore a hard series of tasks working with children by the thousands.
As we prepared to land I told the commander that I was to be the first on off the plane to assess and that it was not negotiable. He agreed and then I told him Bravo my number one would be of next then him. As the plane landed and came to a stop the place looked abandoned. The door opened and I broken a glow stick and put it on my back so bravo could see me on the ground. As the door came open I looked down and saw the friendly faces of a few soldiers of the 82nd Airborne division wondering where their pizza was. We off loaded the food and it sped off to the soldiers at our awaiting compound. I walked the perimeter of the plane and there was little to no visual presence of any security. Several local Haitians were freely roaming the flight line and I was eager to get my rifle from my bags. Bravo came down and secured our rifles and gear and we began then to collect our task force.
Bravo, I and my other three security members flew with sidearms and ammo into the country. We had our tactical vests on, but had to store the rifles because of space. It felt real good to get my rifle in my hands and to begin to rally the folks.
It was on the flight line within an hour I would have my first run in with what I would call a “dumb ass”. We were keeping our folks corralled on the flight line and not letting anyone wander off. Bravo and I were on top of the perimeter along with our other team members. A soldier from the 82nd made a brief comment about the “private security” to the effect of “why are we here if they are?”. At that point the operations guru walked over and looked me right square in the eyes and said “do you really think you need those rifles now?”. I looked right back into his innocent, never been in a fight eyes and said “how bout we give this mission a few more hours before we lay down our weapons”.
It was clear to me that many of these folks were already beginning to get confused about the relationship between a body guard and the principle. See, the body guard has to protect the asset (doctor or nurse or dumb ass operations dude) regardless of what they think of them. It has been referenced as sheep dog versus sheep and wolves. the sheep don't really like the sheepdog but need him. Only when the wolves are visible do the sheep really like the sheepdog. The rest of the time the sheepdog is just an annoying fixture that takes up space, limits movement and is generally hyper vigilant when the world is really just fine. This line of thinking will get you killed in many lands and haiti was no different. Why would we say that and an educated doctor, nurse or college grad does not get it? Simple, we are trained to look for threats and they are trained to open their arms to all people. In fact they take an oath to never deny treatment to those in need no matter what. Our oath is that I will stop at all cost any and all threats to you and all those in my charge to the peril of my own life period. I don't care about your politics, or the color of your skin nor your religious beliefs. If you are in my care then I will be the body that brings you back in one piece. We will make sure that your mission is accomplished only second to your safety. This dynamic would be a consistent rub between the body guards and the staff much of the time in country. A few dramatic moments would soften the relationship, but it was always tenuous at best.
On the ground
One of the first missions we ran was outside the wire at the airport. A local Bishop of the Latter-Day Saint church had brought his wife to the outside of the airport seeking medical aid. Her legs had been crushed in the quake and many family members were killed at the same time in proximity to her. Bravo and I left the group in the care of our team members and went to help...