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#422: U.S. Troops Prepare To Leave Haiti (fwd)

From: Antoine Blanc <ablanc@acn2.net>

Monday September 6 6:19 PM ET

U.S. Troops Prepare To Leave Haiti

By MICHAEL NORTON Associated Press Writer

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti (AP) - They put smiles on the faces of the
desperate and hopeless. They built toilets and showers for
orphans used to squatting outside and bathing in drains. They helped
farmers get produce to market.

Now American troops are packing up to leave Haiti after a humanitarian
mission that probably saved hundreds of lives and made
those of countless others more livable.

Maj. Marian Nutt, an Air Force clinical nurse from Louisville, Ky.,
struggles to find words to describe how long-suffering Haitians
reacted to being treated - at last - like human beings.

``They come to us in their Sunday best, as though to receive something
not of this world,'' Nutt says. ``It must feel like a miracle.''

Marine Gunnery Sgt. David Marcussen, a 40-year-old military police
officer, was so enthusiastic about his work in Haiti that he
extended his tour of duty twice.

``Marines are not only to be reckoned with as a destructive force. We
can also help get a country back onto its feet,'' he says.

``Haiti has great, untapped potential,'' adds Marcussen, from Ada,
Minn., who expresses admiration for the courage of ordinary
Haitians and says he will remember the smiles of gratitude from the

Haiti, however, is far from being on its own feet.

After receiving hundreds of millions of dollars from the U.S., it
remains gripped by the political power struggles that have helped keep
it one of the most impoverished nations on Earth for the nearly 200
years since it became the world's first black republic.

Still, thousands of Haitians have been helped by the work of the U.S.
military Support Group, which has been based here since the
last American combat troops left two years ago, remnants of the
20,000-soldier force sent by President Clinton to oust a military
regime in 1996.

The group's departure over the next few months will mean the end of more
than five years of a permanent U.S. military presence in
the troubled Caribbean nation, a mission that cost the Pentagon $20
million a year.

The soldiers built a highway bypass from the capital's periphery into
its congested center, along with the 200-foot Grise River bridge,
which relieves traffic congestion and gives farmers an easy way to get
their produce to city markets.

The troops dug wells that bring safe water to hundreds of slum dwellers
who used to have to walk miles hefting buckets.

At Cazeau orphanage, on Port-au-Prince's outskirts, soldiers built 12
rooms and installed a latrine and showers for kids.

The group's doctors helped Mirline Antoine to smile after Haitian
hospitals had given up on the 18-year-old so disfigured by a cleft
palate and lip that she could do no more than grimace and communicate in

A three-hour facial operation gave her ``a more normal appearance,''
says Nutt, the Air Force nurse. ``Her speech has improved,
and now she smiles.''

Raymonde Pierre-Gustave, a 34-year-old mother-of-three, suffered a
broken pelvis in a traffic accident. Doctors at Port-au-Prince's
General Hospital turned her away. So she went to the Americans, who
helped her heal.

``I had nowhere else to turn to,'' she says. ``I won't forget what
they've done for me.''

In sharp contrast to the gratitude expressed by those who profited
directly from the Americans' work is the indifference and
sometimes even hostility from others - including many who may have
harbored unrealistic expectations.

The private Radio Quisqueya reported in late August that an unscientific
survey found many Haitians complained the Americans had
not contributed enough to economic progress or security. Others only
grudgingly agreed the U.S. presence might have dissuaded
troublemakers from trying to restore a dictatorship in Haiti, the report

Some Haitians fear the departure of the Support Group, coupled with the
impending end of a U.N. mission, could encourage enemies
of an already dysfunctional democracy.

A business leader in Port-Au-Prince said Monday that a grenade exploded
in front of Haiti's Chamber of Commerce headquarters,
damaging the building's facade but causing no injuries.

Attackers hurled the grenade over the fence of the building Saturday
night, said past Chamber of Commerce President Gerard Bailly.
The attack across the street from the U.S. Embassy followed the
chamber's efforts to stem violence against business owners.

During the time medical troops have been on the island as part of the
U.S. mission, they have treated 117,000 patients, mostly the
poorest of the poor from metropolitan slums. Other soldiers built and
repaired 13 miles of roads, renovated 48 schools, drilled and
repaired 64 wells, and built a boat ramp.

The group's has distributed more than 85 tons of donated goods and
clothing and more than 180 tons of assorted humanitarian items
flown in on U.S. aircraft.

By early next year, the U.S. military camp near the international
airport will be dismantled along with its clinic.

National Guard and reserve soldiers will be sent to do much the same
work. But they will stay for short periods only and serve all
over the country, probably meaning a reduction in the medical services
in the capital, which perhaps provided the most rewarding of
the Support Group's work.

``It's a training exercise for us, and we see things here we can't see
at home,'' Nutt says. ``We've learned a lot.''