GONAIVES, Haiti (NNS) -- Douglas Griffiths, U.S. Embassy deputy chief of Mission, and Rear Adm. Vinson Smith, commander, U.S. Naval Forces Southern Command, turned the last of three newly-built schoolhouses over to the people of Gonaives, Haiti in a ceremony May 5.
Held at the school Lycee Des Jeunes Filles De Louis Dia Quoi, the ceremony marked the end of New Horizons 2005 Haiti, a three-month humanitarian and civic assistance exercise sponsored by U.S. Southern Command.
Opening the ceremony, Capt. Douglas Taylor, the Task Force commander, thanked the people of Gonaives and praised their cooperation.
"The work we have done here could not be a reality without the assistance of the Haitian government, the people of Gonaives, and the government in Gonaives," Taylor said. "We have learned many important lessons from the people of Gonaives."
Taylor focused his remarks on the positive relationship between the task force, which was comprised of representatives from every branch of the military, and the people of Gonaives.
"It is my hope," he concluded, "that our modest contributions here will establish a future of hope for Haiti."
Smith, executive Agent for New Horizons Haiti, echoed Taylor's comments, and introduced some important facts during his remarks.
"New Horizons exercises are one of the U.S. Southern Command's primary means of fostering goodwill through humanitarian assistance," he said, after thanking U.S. Army Maj. Jean Fleurantin of the 478th Civil Affairs Group for translating his speech to the assembled dignitaries and students attending the school.
"My hope is that we have made a positive contribution to Gonaives," he added.
Smith highlighted the task force's accomplishments over the three-month deployment that included building three schools, providing more children the opportunity of education, drilling three water wells, securing new sources of fresh water and extending basic medical care, including preventive medicine for more than 15,000 people. The Medical Readiness Training Exercise teams also included veterinarians, who provided veterinary services to 2,400 animals. More than 9,000 pounds of humanitarian aid were donated to eight schools, two orphanages and a hospital in Gonaives. The task force also exceeded its assignment by setting up temporary housing for children at an orphanage in Gonaives.
"Sacrifice and teamwork led to the success of New Horizons," Smith explained and thanked all of the individual units contributing to the mission. These units included: Naval Mobile Construction Battalion 1 from Mississippi, 400th Military Police Battalion from Maryland, 699th Construction Battalion from Puerto Rico, 640th Water Purification Battalion from the U.S. Virgin Islands, 207th Aviation Battalion from Alaska, 4th Marine Civil Affairs Group from Washington, D.C., 478th Civil Affairs Battalion from Miami, Fla., Mobile Operations Command Centers from Willow Grove, Pa., and Jacksonville, Fla. and the Medical Readiness Training Exercise staffs from the U.S. Navy, Army and Air Force.
Smith also thanked the interim government in Haiti for their cooperation and the U.S. embassy in Haiti for their support and presented Mr. Pierre Buteau, the minister of education for the interim Haitian government, and Mr. Douglas Griffiths, the U.S. Embassy deputy chief of Mission, with plaques in honor of their support and cooperation for Task Force New Horizons Haiti.
Buteau expressed gratitude on behalf of the people of Haiti. He remarked that exercises like New Horizons demonstrate who Haiti's friends are, and he would not stop letting his American friends know how much the people of Haiti appreciate what the U.S. has done for them. Buteau also expressed his amazement at the task force's ability to get so much done in so little time.
"With the opening of three public schools, the United States has expressed solidarity with the Haitian people," Buteau said. "Every time a school is built, it builds a better future for Haiti."
With the mission of Task Force New Horizons Haiti 2005 complete, the various units which made this mission successful will break down their headquarters at Camp Unity in Gonaives and Camp Eagle in Port-au-Prince and return to their home stations. Navy ships will pull in and pick up the military personnel and equipment. The task force leaves behind three schools, three water wells, and a lasting impression of friendship and goodwill with the people in Gonaives.
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