"The next morning after the earthquake, as a military man of 37 years service, I assumed . . . there would be airplanes delivering aid, not troops, but aid," said retired Lt. Gen. Russel Honore, who coordinated military operations after disaster struck the U.S. Gulf Coast in 2005. "What we saw instead was discussion about, 'Well we've got to send an assessment team in to see what the needs are.' And anytime I hear that, my head turns red."
The problem, Honore told USA Today, is that the State Department and the U.S. Agency for International Development, instead of the military, take the lead in international disaster response.
"I was a little frustrated to hear that USAID was the lead agency," he said. "I respect them, but they're not a rapid deployment unit."
USAID immediately dispatched an assessment team and search-and-rescue teams, but there has still not been widespread distribution of food or water, three days after the Haiti earthquake.
In the first two days after Tuesday evening's quake, "we saw national media in, but we didn't see Air Force airplanes taking in food and water," Honore said. Nor were military doctors on the ground treating the injured, he said.
. . . Honore is not alone is criticizing the speed of the U.S. response to Haiti.
"There is an enormous disparity between the scale of need here and seemingly the scale of the response," said Irwin Redlener, who directs the National Center for Disaster Preparedness at Columbia University's Mailman School of Public Health.
Redlener, while praising the Obama administration's commitment to Haiti relief, questioned why military units didn't deploy faster. A rapid response unit such as the 82nd Airborne Division can deploy within 18 hours of an order to go, said retired general Jack Keane, the former Army vice chief of staff. . .
Other experts disputed the idea that the military's response was too slow.
"I honestly don't think the military can be counted on for the first 48 hours of a catastrophe, especially in a remote location," said William O'Neill, executive dean for clinical affairs at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine, as he was en route to do relief work in Haiti. "It's just really tough to expect that the military would be kind of like the babysitter for all the world."
"Forty-eight hours is an extraordinarily short time to make an assessment and get the troops in," said former Army colonel Joseph Cerami, director of the public service leadership program at Texas A&M University. "I think the issue is having situational awareness. So you get 3,000 soldiers on the ground. What do they do when they get there? What is the security situation, what are the rules of engagement, is there any kind of civilian authority, what are the Haitians asking for? The devil's in the details in those kinds of operations."
Some military units did arrive almost immediately after the quake struck, including Coast Guard planes and Air Force special operations troops who got the airport up and running. . .