Higgins, first U.S. Navy ship to arrive in Haiti, returns to San Diego
SAN DIEGO – The guided-missile destroyer USS Higgins (DDG 76) will return to San Diego Feb. 3 after an independent deployment of more than six months. Higgins circumnavigated the globe and performed a variety of tasks in support of the national maritime strategy.
While en route to San Diego on the final leg of its world-wide deployment, Higgins was diverted to Port-au-Prince, Haiti for humanitarian assistance and disaster response operations in the wake of a 7.0 magnitude earthquake that rocked the small nation.
Two Higgins Sailors, Engineman 1st Class Ernst Gedeus and Culinary Specialist 2nd Class Waddle Alphonse, are of Haitian heritage.
"The first day we went over to help, I didn’t know what to expect," said Alphonse. " [I thought], what if some of my family is there, injured or dead." He did not initially see any of his family members to confirm their status. Then, once people being treated at the camp started to recognize his familiar accent, they wanted to help him find his relatives. "A little man asked me where my family lived. I gave him their names and the house number, and he said he would find them, five hours later, I saw my father."
Alphonse was able to confirm that all of his relatives on the island are alive and safe and passed that information back to his worried family in the U.S.
Gedeus’ story is similar. "We did a six-month deployment before this…but we’re here actually helping people," he said. "What we did here in days, I don’t even think they could’ve done in months by themselves."
Higgins provided information on command and control and the environment to Navy forces arriving in the area, so that new arrivals were immediately prepared to contribute to the relief effort. The ship served as a ready-refueling flight deck, constantly available for replenishing the U.S. Navy and Coast Guard helicopters that were the primary means of transporting goods and injured people between disaster sites and medical facilities. Higgins also served as a domicile in the evenings for medical professionals who treated victims ashore all day, and as a mode of transportation for them from ship to shore. Higgins’ small boats were used to transfer supplies and wounded from shore to Coast Guard cutters for further medical evacuation.
Higgins also provided Sailors to work at a care site set up at Killick Coast Guard Base to assist directly in relief efforts by moving patients between the triage and helicopters, setting
up new care facilities, helping treat the injured and providing security. Higgins’ Sailors restructured the make-shift medical facility to improve patient flow and care.
Crew members agreed there was no real way to sum up the magnitude of this experience. "I’m just glad I was able to physically be here for my people when they really needed help," said Alphonse.
Prior to participating in the Haiti relief effort, Higgins participated in several multi-service exercises demonstrating its Ballistic Missile Defense (BMD) capabilities. Higgins’ first tactical mission was "freedom of navigation" operations in the South China Sea. Next, it spent two weeks in and off the coast of Split, Croatia contributing to "Jackal Stone," a combined-force, multi-faceted tactical exercise aimed to build upon the collective capabilities and cooperative capacity of war on terrorism partners.
The ship also participated with Israeli Defense Forces in an exercise designed to prepare U.S. and Israeli forces for combined BMD operations. Finally, Higgins participated in a missile defense exercise to ensure optimal Aegis BMD capability for years to come.
While conducting Maritime Domain Awareness Operations in the East Mediterranean, the ship’s signal exploitation space, combat information center and bridge watchstanders provided unrelenting and invaluable contributions to understanding activity in the vicinity of the Levant.
While off the coast of Lebanon, a ceremonial wreath-laying was held near Beirut where Col. William Richard Higgins, a U. S. Marine, was captured and killed while serving on a peace-keeping mission in Lebanon. Higgins also rendered honors to the victims of the Beirut Barracks Bombing on the 26th anniversary of the attack.
During its stay in the Sixth Fleet area of responsibility, Higgins hosted two receptions to advance U.S. relationships with partner nations Bosnia-Herzegovina and Turkey
Upon her return to San Diego, Higgins helps provide deterrence, promote peace and security, preserve freedom of the sea and humanitarian/disaster response within 3rd Fleet's 50-million square mile area of responsibility in the Eastern Pacific, as well as supporting the Navy's Maritime Strategy when forward deployed.