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Completing a mission of mercy

Jan. 22, 2010
“The airport is in bad condition but things are organized and extremely busy.” –Dave Thompson, president and CEO, TEC Equipment As I detailed in this space last Tuesday, Dave Thompson – president and CEO of Mack, Volvo, and GMC truck dealership chain ...

The airport is in bad condition but things are organized and extremely busy.” –Dave Thompson, president and CEO, TEC Equipment

As I detailed in this space last Tuesday, Dave Thompson – president and CEO of Mack, Volvo, and GMC truck dealership chain TEC Equipment – and his employees pulled together to support a medical relief mission to Haiti, trying to provide what help they could to that devastated country.

With Thompson (seen here in the black jacket at right) at the controls of TEC’s corporate jet – a nine-seat Cessna Citation Encore – this special mission successfully delivered a team of seven volunteer doctors, nurses, health professionals and desperately needed medical supplies from Medical Teams International to Port-au-Prince airport in Haiti yesterday.

“The landing went well,” Thompson reported yesterday to TEC’s marketing manager, Dave Schwanke, back at the company’s headquarters in Portland, Oregon. “The volunteers from Medical Teams International thanked us for our donation of transport, jumped into a waiting truck and they were off to action.”

Sadly, though, the other part of his mission – to bring a recently adopted orphan Haitian child to her waiting parents in Portland – didn’t pan out as Thompson said he was unable to make contact with officials in Haiti.

“I had to stay with the jet and was not allowed to leave the airport,” he told Schwanke. “Without telephones I had no way of reaching anybody to learn more.”

However, he was able to return with two U.S. citizens and four other Haitian children, dropping them off to officials waiting at the Fort Lauderdale airport before continuing the trip home. He stopped last night in Wellington, Kansas to refuel, and plans to return back to Portland sometime today.

Thompson talked to Schwanke briefly about his experience on the ground in Haiti. Even though he only spent to two hours there, confined to a corner of the super-busy tarmac at Port-au-Prince International, Thompson got a glimpse of the heroic unsung work being done to help Haiti recover from the catastrophic 7.0 earthquake it suffered last week.

“He told me it’s like ‘organized chaos’ on the ground at the airport,” Schwanke explained to me last night. “There’s only one working runway at the airport – there used to be two – and flights are landing and taking off nonstop, around the clock.”

U.S. Air Force personnel are running the airport now and Thompson said they are doing a phenomenal job with the few resources they’ve got. “It’s running like clockwork and its ‘go-go-go’ all the time,” Schwanke related to me. “They are telling everyone that if you want to land at Port-au-Prince you better be on the schedule and you better not be late. It’s amazing what they are doing.”

As an aside, I know that the general news reports won’t be noting any of this – that the news will be focused on the delays, the failures, etc. So let me be the first to give the Air Force personnel on the ground in Haiti a huge “thumbs up” for getting a near-impossible job done while being criticized every step of the way.

It’s true that relief supplies are piling up in warehouses and on the airport’s tarmac, and that little of it is flowing inland yet. People will be critical of this and we’ll read a ton of news stories about it, but it merely shows that oh-so-few people realize how challenging the logistics are on the ground post-natural disaster.

In some respects, this is a reflection I believe of how good logistics are these days – so good it’s all taken for granted. People just expect goods from a warehouse to get picked up and dropped off where needed – hey, happens every day over here. Never mind that Haiti lacks heavy trucks and roads to support them – that most of these supplies will need to be taken via helicopter inland. And transporting the necessary helicopters into Haiti to do all this takes time.

One thing’s for certain, though – the aid is on the ground and people are working night and day to figure out a way to deliver it over the last mile. We’re not in their shoes over there, in the heat, the mud, picking our way through the rubble as the stench of death clogs the air. It’s a heartrending situation in Haiti, but the logisticians will find a way to get the job done.

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