The crew of the USS Bataan didn't know what to expect when they reached the coast of Haiti on Jan. 18, six days after an earthquake ravaged the country.
The city of Port-au-Prince was in shambles. Rural land to the west had not been fully explored. And there was no safe bet on where the sailors and Marines could come ashore.
But the Norfolk-based amphibious assault ship has long since settled into a routine, and sailors like Petty Officer 3rd Class Noland Armstrong, a Newport News native, are getting the chance to go ashore and provide hands-on assistance for the humanitarian mission.
"They're just trying to survive," he said in a recent telephone interview. "We're helping out any way we can."
Armstrong, 23, is an aviation ordnanceman, responsible for transporting and loading ordnance. His mom, Patricia, lives in Chesapeake and his sister, Ebony, in Norfolk. He graduated from Warwick High School in 2005 and enlisted in the Navy one year later.
So far, he's gone ashore three times. The sailors have worked in Grand Goave to clear rubble, assemble tents and — for those medically qualified — administer to patients. The Bataan has continued to push west from where it first landed — at a Christian mission in Pandou — moving farther into the countryside.
Meanwhile, the crew has had to deal with some minor distractions — like going without showers and laundry for a few days until repairs were made to the Bataan's water-making equipment.
"They got it turned around," said Armstrong. "It didn't last very long."
Nor did it stop the flow of supplies to the shore.
Since arriving in Haiti, the Bataan has transported nearly 2,000 pallets of food, aid and medical supplies ashore — some 1.2 million pounds of food and 1.45 million pounds of water.
Its extensive medical facilities — second only to the massive hospital ships — have seen nearly 250 patients.
If the Bataan hadn't been ordered to Haiti on short notice, Armstrong said, he would be working at the shipyard in Norfolk right now.
He isn't sure when he'll return to Hampton Roads to see his family.
But he has no regrets.
"This is why I joined," he said. "We've got to do this mission first."
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