|Some of the last command-and-control elements of the U.S. Navy’s relief efforts in Haiti returned home April 1, including the Norfolk-based Strike Group that was among the first responders in country.
Commander, Carrier Strike Group TWO (CSG 2) Rear Adm. Dave Thomas, was the last member of his Strike Group to return to its home base of Norfolk, Va., after dedicating more than 70 days to leading sustained relief operations in the disaster-ravaged nation of Haiti.
“It is great to be home, but it is an even better feeling to know that we did so much down there as a staff and a Navy to help the people of Haiti,” said Thomas. “There is still a lot of work to do there, and my heart goes out to the incredible people of that country. They are resilient and were incredible partners in the process of delivering aid.”
The Strike Group, which will eventually embark on America’s newest aircraft carrier, USS George H.W. Bush (CVN 77), traveled in large numbers in the direction of Haiti shortly after a devastating earthquake struck the nation Jan. 12.
CSG 2, which was not embarked on CVN 77 at the time, was in a unique position to help with the humanitarian assistance mission after the earthquake struck near the nation’s capital of Port-au-prince. More than 172 Sailors from the Strike Group took part in Operation Unified Response. Thomas and his staff were charged with providing the command and control to manage the movement of food, water, medical supplies and relief personnel to Haiti from Naval Station Guantanamo Bay, Cuba and ships operating off the coast.
Thomas assumed command of Task Force 41, the U.S. Navy’s sea-based element supporting JTF-Haiti, on Feb. 1, after USS Carl Vinson (CVN 70) and its strike group staff and leadership departed the area. CSG 2 staff alternated between being embarked aboard the amphibious assault ship USS Bataan (LHD 5) and living in tents outside of the U.S. Embassy in Port-Au-Prince until late March. Most of the staff returned to Norfolk March 25th. Thomas was the last to return just a few days later.
“Living in tents and staying in Haiti as long as we did was different than most of us had experienced in the Navy,” said Capt. Jeffrey Hesterman, chief of staff for the Strike Group. “We had a lot of work to do down there and we did it. Like the admiral, I am awestruck by the efforts of all of our Sailors and Marines who were the first responders there.”
Carrier Strike Group TWO expects to embark on board CVN 77 later this summer as the ship prepares for its maiden deployment in 2011.