Appreciation Event for Haiti Earthquake Task Force Volunteers

Hillary Rodham Clinton
Secretary of State
Dean Acheson Auditorium
Washington, DC
March 15, 2010

Thank you very much, Ambassador Merten. Thanks to all of your extraordinary team there in Haiti, and thanks to Dan Smith, who, as Executive Secretary, was responsible for coordinating a lot of what we were able to do under very challenging circumstances to help our colleagues in Haiti and to help the Haitian people. And I also want to thank our Chief of Staff and Counselor Cheryl Mills, who has been spearheading an effort on behalf of Haiti even before the earthquake and will continue to do so.


But I think we really have to just pause for a moment and think back to January 12th, that horrible moment when the earth shook, and our team, led by Ken Merten, showed great leadership, not only for the American community, but for the international community and for the Haitian Government and people. From that moment when it started, Ambassador Merten has led this team and represented the resolve of our country and our President, of the State Department and USAID and all the government personnel, civilian and military, who either were there or came to help. And also he represented the generosity of the American people.


So let me start by extending our deep gratitude to Ambassador Merten and the entire team in Haiti. (Applause.)


I also want to thank Under Secretary Pat Kennedy, who helped coordinate this incredibly complicated effort that included everyone here, as well as people and resources from across the federal government.


But most of all, I wanted this opportunity to thank each and every one of you. Since I have been honored to be the Secretary of State, nothing has made me prouder than your response to this catastrophe.


The earthquake created staggering humanitarian needs and tested our capacity in so many ways. More than 250,000 people killed, many thousands injured, infrastructure devastated, a government profoundly damaged, thousands of Americans to account for, rescue and evacuate, and a broad international effort to coordinate. And in the face of all these and so many more challenges, your performance was remarkable.


I started making calls that night, and as I was talking to leaders around the world, I told them that we wanted to help coordinate their efforts so please the call State Department, call in to our task forces that were being set up immediately. The United States ended up evacuating more than 16,000 people via bus and plane, our longest and largest evacuation in recent history. Staff from Consular Affairs – and I see Janice here and I thank her entire team – and the Embassy tracked the welfare and whereabouts of 22,000 people throughout the crisis and responded to nearly 500,000 inquiries from concerned friends and loved ones.


We transported vast quantities of emergency supplies – thousands and thousands of bottles of water, MREs, fuel, cots, medical supplies, tools, and so much else.


More than 1,700 volunteers here at home staffed task forces or worked within their bureaus and offices to coordinate every aspect of these efforts. Task Force 1 alone received more than 40,000 emails. Many of you braved difficult weather, worked multiple shifts, slept at the Department, in order to ensure that nothing fell through the cracks.


And many of you also volunteered to go to Haiti, and you joined our extraordinary team there. You, along with our team on the ground, provided a partner to the Haitian Government and the United Nations, which had likewise been devastated. And you coordinated the arrival of thousands of U.S. military and civilian personnel.


Many of you in Haiti lost your own homes. You slept on the floor of the Embassy, and you kept working around the clock. Those of you who could, welcomed co-workers into your homes, up to 15 co-workers and family members in one case. Our locally employed colleagues lost their homes, friends, and family members, yet so many of them kept working, too.


I heard the story about Peter Kolshorn, one of our security officers, who along with members of the Local Guard Force went searching for missing staff. They found an injured Embassy couple whose home had fallen into a deep ravine. Peter and his team carried the couple by foot for six hours on a make-shift gurney made of ladders and garden hoses until they reached the Embassy Health Unit. That couple was stabilized and evacuated, and now are expected to recover.


I heard about Carolyn Veit, the Embassy’s nurse, whose own home was destroyed but who worked nonstop for almost 48 hours to tend the hundreds of seriously injured Americans in a makeshift surgical trauma unit.


There are so many stories of heroism and of extraordinary service. I want to thank all of you who kept working. Your service and your sacrifice made us proud, proud to be Americans, proud to be members of our government at this particularly crucial time.


Tragically, we lost a number of our family members in this disaster. Victoria DeLong, the Cultural Affairs Officer at the Embassy who had worked to build bridges of understanding and respect. The wife and young children of Andrew Wyllie, a decorated State Department officer working with the United Nations. And six locally employed staff: Jean-Daniel LaFontant, Olriche Jean, Jacques Josue Desamours, Laica Casseus, and Joseph Fontal. Racan Domond is still missing. Our thoughts and prayers are with all of their family and friends, and we honor their memories by continuing the work to which they devoted their lives.


As I told President Preval on his visit last week to Washington, we are committed to Haiti for the long term. We are working with our international partners to meet urgent needs as the rainy season approaches. And we are working with the Haitian Government for Haiti’s long-term reconstruction and renewal. At the end of this month, there will be a donors conference co-hosted by the United States and the United Nations in New York to obtain pledges for work for this reconstruction effort and to continue closer coordination of our international effort. And in the months and years ahead, the men and women of the State Department and USAID will continue to make good on our commitment to stand with the Haitian people.


I first went to Haiti in 1975, and I have been entranced by Haiti every since. My husband and I have worked in our various incarnations in the public and private and not-for-profit sectors to try to help Haiti. We, like so many, are drawn to the vibrancy of the culture, the beauty of the people, the resilience and commitment and aspirations for a better life. And so for me this is a very personal commitment, but it is also for President Obama and for our Government as well. We want to help build Haiti back better. We want to give every Haitian boy and girl a chance to live up to his or her God-given potential. And we want to demonstrate that the United States is not only a good and effective partner and friend and neighbor, but one who stays and helps even as the immediate crisis abates and as the TV cameras move on to the next crisis.


So Haiti will be a priority so long as I am Secretary of State, and I know it will be one for all of you who have helped in the largest, most difficult, humanitarian rescue-and-recovery effort we’ve ever attempted, and who will be there with us as we try to make good on our pledge to Haiti.


Thank you all very much. (Applause.)

PRN: 2010/303