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Army Sgt. 1st Class Michael J. Carden - American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, March 10, 2010 - President Barack Obama recognized nine military members along with other federal, state and nongovernment relief workers here today for their service to earthquake-ravaged Haiti.
"Today I want to thank all of them for leading a swift and coordinated response during one of the most complex humanitarian efforts ever attempted," Obama said. "I think you represent what's best in America, and I could not be prouder of the response that all of you engaged in during this humanitarian crisis."
Haitian President Rene Preval attended the Rose Garden ceremony to thank Obama and his administration for their quick response. The United States was part of global response that arrived in Haiti almost immediately after a magnitude 7.0 earthquake struck the Haitian capital of Port-au-Prince on Jan. 12.
An estimated 8 million Haitians lost their homes, and thousands of others died in the wreckage. Relief efforts included conducting search-and-rescue missions, treating life-threatening injuries and providing food, water and shelter.
Navy Lt. Sheila Almendras-Flaherty was deployed to Haiti for almost two months aboard the hospital ship USNS Comfort, where she served as a pediatric nurse. Her experience, although rewarding, was not easy, having to see so many injured children on her medical floor, she said.
"I treated them as if they were my own kids," she said. "The numbers were pretty significant, and it was really difficult. The experience is very just very difficult to put into words."
Air Force Senior Airman Justin York served with the Tennessee Air National Guard's 24th Air Expeditionary Group. Haiti was his first deployment, he said.
He shared Almendras-Flaherty's sentiments and expressed the difficulties of searching for survivors amid the rubble and damage.
"It's a really sad situation, but I'm happy I was able to help," he said.
For Navy Chief Warrant Officer Wilfred Bossous, serving in Haiti also was difficult. Wilfred was born in Haiti and came to the United States in 1984 when he was 14 years old. Bossou said he lost 10 family members to the earthquake.
"Going back and seeing all the devastation, I was taken aback by it," he said. "But being in the position to help my natives, I felt blessed. I pride myself on being professional and not being too emotional, but being able to go back to my homeland was very gratifying, and it's a blessing to have had the opportunity to do so."
The military honorees followed their meeting with Obama with a tour of the White House and the Pentagon. The servicemembers have completed their tour in Haiti and are back at their home stations.