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This blog exists only as an archive. It is a journal that serves as a window into my life as a Marine combat veteran serving in Iraq and Afghanistan; it was written with no filter, no politics and no agenda. Please feel free to follow my journey from beginning to end. Welcome to my life.

Monday, February 01, 2010

Reflections of my mission in Haiti with Bravo Team Rubicon, by Gregg LaVeau RN

As I sit here at home in my kitchen, with diet Dr Pepper in hand (no diet DP in Haiti), and reflect on my time in Haiti I am humbled by the memories. Memories of sights, sounds, feelings and smells. Memories of a Haitian people devastated by the destruction of their homes and villages. Memories of my teammates, now friends, one and all.

Eleven volunteers in Bravo Team, most which had never met, came together in North Carolina and became a real TEAM (and friends) in only three days, Members coming together from California, Texas, New York, Idaho and other far reaching places. Each member of the team bringing with them different valuable skills, with a wide variety of backgrounds and personalities. A mixture of Nurses, Firefighters, Paramedics, Doctors and members with Military backgrounds all there for one reason, to help the people of Haiti with their individual skills. Each member volunteering their time and some even their money, to hopefully make a difference. Led by a team leader, a man of many talents, not the least of which was his ability to “acquire” certain necessities to keep the team going, such as food and water.

Many people that we never saw made a huge impact on the team. A Pittsburg business man who donated plane service that was responsible for Bravo team’s flight to and for some members, from, Haiti was one such person. Team member’s wives, girlfriends, family members, friends and others were also responsible for a positive impact on the Team by supporting us in our decision to go to Haiti, not knowing what we would encounter upon our arrival.

We arrived late at night so we could not see the true picture of what destruction had occurred as we drove to the Jesuit Mission we would call home for the coming days. Brother Jim Boynton met us upon our arrival. It took only a short time for all of us to come to love and respect Brother Jim, a man with a multitude of talents and truly an unselfish man dedicated to helping people. Brother Jim’s attitude and spirit was such that we all are better for having met him.

On our first Mission in Port Au Prince the next morning we were able to see the aftermath of the earthquake. Not a one of us could have imagined the destruction to be so horrible. I know that I was moved to tears as we made our way through the city to the first place we would set up our medical site. The sights and the sounds and the smells were enough to cause anyone to be moved and humbled. Hundreds and hundreds of Haitians lined the streets and back alleyways of the city. Make shift homes that were simply tarps erected for shade, numerous tents, makeshift huts and other simple structures were scattered throughout the city. Some “tent cities” within the city existed also, some with only a few people and some with hundreds. There was little electricity, no running water, no bathrooms, no kitchens, fallen buildings, garbage, heat, offensive smells, and people crowded into the streets because they were afraid to be inside any building. No picture or phrase or paragraph of words can describe what we all saw as we traveled through the area. Some mental pictures will be with us for the rest of our lives and some of them we hope will not.

As we arrived at our first site and began to set up our medical gear and start treating people we were moved by the appreciation we received from each and every patient. I heard merci (thank you) more times than I could have imagined. We did not know in advance what to expect and had heard the news report of riots and trouble. I can tell you we went to Haiti prepared for danger and what we found were people that were glad to see us, never once did I feel in danger.

I was asked the next day by Brother Jim if I would go with the director of an orphanage to assess some injuries and do a general well check on her 70 kids. It was a privilege and an honor for me to go. The orphanage director and one other person from the orphanage drove me there to see the children. On my arrival I immediately noted the children were of all ages, from very small children through teenagers. At first most of them were fearful of this guy wearing a stethoscope around his neck and carrying a small medical bag, but before long with a smile, a laugh and a few funny faces the children were lining up to be seen. A few had some minor injuries but most were doing well. The children began to smile and talk to me. I was lucky enough to have a young man there (Howard) that spoke English quite well, and he translated for me. I drew happy faces on band aids for the ones that would not smile, placed them on their hand and had the interpreter tell them that since they would not smile I was giving them mine. Needless to say before it was over they had all smiled, especially me. Several hours later after every one was seen the director gathered all the children together and taught them all to say my name. Then they sang me a song telling me how they appreciated the help while the director interpreted. I must say that I was the one deeply appreciative and moved. I cannot begin to express how grateful I am that I was able to go there.

Throughout the following days we saw many people, possibly hundreds in total and treated a huge assortment of injuries and illnesses. We saw many things that tore at our hearts and met many people that are still in our hearts, but throughout it all I believe we all got more out of our time in Haiti than we gave. Some members of our team volunteered to help take bodies to a morgue where they could find a peaceful forever resting place. A job that no one else would do, a horrible job, but a job they were proud to do because they are truly men of compassion. We all take home memories good and bad that will forever shape our lives. I can now say to the people that told me before I left that this could be a life changing experience, YES, YES, YES it was.

As our mission winded down many of our group went to a hospital and spent time helping there, two of our team spending 24 hours straight helping out. Some members ventured out of the city on the last day to donate medications and equipment to other small clinics and return to places they had been, such as an orphanage and a school. Brother Jim was also with us and was trying to find shelter for post operative patients from the hospital who had no home and needed a place to recuperate, as the hospital was discharging them to the street.

As six of our team, including myself, prepared to make our way home as our mission was officially to be over, the other team members planned to stay on and help out in any way they could. Brother Jim was of course continuing his mission there and was going to be his usual positive influence on the members that were staying and the people of Haiti.

I have many more memories that are just too plentiful to put into words, some I am not ready to discuss until I can process them. These I am sharing today are just the early ones that stick out in my mind.

As a final note to my reflection I would like to personally thank all the outstanding members of the first Team Rubicon for their valiant efforts and for putting in place the platform for Bravo Team Rubicon to continue their work.

Most of all I wish to thank and Salute my fellow team members of Bravo Team Rubicon and say that I am proud and honored to have served time with such outstanding and dedicated people that are Bravo Team Rubicon. God Bless each and every one of you for your service and God speed on your return home.

All the members of Team Rubicon have stories to tell and memories to share of their individual experiences in Haiti. This is just my early reflection. Thank you.

The work is only just beginning so please keep all the people that are continuing the medical care going in Haiti in your daily prayers.
Bravo Team Rubicon and Others
  • Glenn Pinson
  • L.J McCormick
  • Gregg LaVeau
  • Zachary Smith
  • Dee Spina
  • Jim Boynton
  • Gary Cagle
  • Brad Ratliff
  • Edmund Lo
  • Mark Plaster
  • John Griswell J
  • ohn Sakman
  • Robin Houghton
  • Our dedicated Haitian translators

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