'When we leave, what then?' U.S. INTERVENTION IN HAITI

October 03, 1994|By Bill Glauber | Bill Glauber,Sun Staff Correspondent

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti -- He will never forget the broken and bleeding body that came off the truck.

One moment, Sgt. Lloyd A. Smith Jr. of Ellicott City was eating lunch, enjoying a warm and gorgeous afternoon. The next, he was leaning over a young Haitian who had been caught in a grenade attack.

Sergeant Smith made sure the man was still breathing. He stanched the flow of blood and hooked up an IV unit.

"I hope I saved his life," he said, his voice rising, his eyes widening in amazement.

It was Thursday, his first day under fire, and Sergeant Smith, 27, reared in a military family and trained as a trauma technologist, performed the way he was supposed to, the way he wanted to.

He is part of the 32-member detachment from the 450th Civil Affairs Battalion, an Army Reserve unit based in Riverdale, Md.

They are doctors, lawyers, firefighters and police officers from Maryland, Delaware and Virginia. They have one foot in the civilian world and another in the military world. And now, they are engaged in one of the tougher jobs of all in Operation Uphold Democracy.

They are here to help keep civilians out of the line of fire. And they are also here to be the Army's eyes and ears on the mean streets of Port-au-Prince.

These are not just any reservists, soldiers who simply play at war. They were in North Carolina for an eight-day training exercise, but it turned into something else, as the Army took advantage of the already assembled unit.

Seemingly in no time, they were on planes, crammed in like sardines, loaded down with 100-pound packs, ready to jump into action with the 82d Airborne in a kick-in-the-door invasion Sept. 18.

When former President Jimmy Carter secured a last-gasp deal with the Haitian generals to step down peacefully, the planes turned around halfway to Haiti and returned home. But that didn't spare the reservists: They landed two days later, seeing the poverty and misery up close.

Sergeant Smith and the others have been moved by all the images that they cannot escape. The children bathing in sewers. The ram shackle housing. The dogs that climb over piles of garbage.

"I have never seen anything like this," Sergeant Smith said. "The worst part of Baltimore or Washington is not even close to this."

Sgt. 1st Class Clyde Ferguson of Glen Burnie, a full-time reservist, said it would be difficult to describe this place to his friends and family.

"Imagine Baltimore City with all the governmental agencies -- the sewage, trash and water -- being turned off," he said. "And being that way for 10 years. It's going to take millions if not billions to rebuild this country."

To others, Haiti may appear a hopeless basket case. But the reservists have to see light where others see darkness.

Still, some of them were troubled in the initial phase of the operation, when the Army made virtually no attempt at disarming the paramilitaries.

"People kept asking us, 'What are you here for?' " Sergeant Smith said. " 'Whose side are you on?' I mean, what could I say? We keep telling the people that it will take time. That we can't rebuild a country in a day. You try to give them hope, something to hold on to."

Hope and healing are what drive Sgt. Will Williams, 39, a paramedic with the Baltimore City Fire Department. For 17 years he labored in the reserve, training for missions that went to others, missing out on Panama, the Persian Gulf and Somalia.

The other firefighters at the station house at McCulloh and McMechen Streets in Baltimore would call him a toy soldier.

"They used to tell me that I've never been anywhere real," he said. "During Hurricane Andrew, they said that the Army wouldn't even let me go down to Florida to fill sandbags. Well, finally, I've gotten to the real thing."

The real thing is walking the streets and talking to people. It's going to churches and teaching mothers and fathers basic first aid. It's noticing that there are fire hydrants without water.

"There is something about this place," he said. "The country is so beautiful. The people are so beautiful. But there is so much poverty."

He worries about armed paramilitaries creating pockets of resistance.

"I think we should have jumped in and taken out the bad guys," he said. "Now, we're working with them. And the public doesn't like that."

He misses working high school football games as a paramedic. He craves Tastykakes and Gatorade. He is desperate to hear the voice of his son, James, 12, an eighth-grader at Garrison Middle School.

"Whenever I go away, my son tells everyone where his father is: helping keep the country free," he said.

But the reservists are trying to bring freedom to another country.

Sergeant Smith will always be haunted by that broken body that came from nowhere on a gorgeous day. He will also take away from this place the images of other young Haitians, dancing on the streets.

But he wonders about the future.

In a letter home to his mother, he wrote: "I'm glad to help, but when we leave, what then?"

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