USS Iwo Jima returns from Haiti relief mission

Sailors reunite with families after Hurricane Matthew relief mission

NAVAL STATION MAYPORT, Fla. – Naval assault ship USS Iwo Jima returned to Mayport on Friday after providing humanitarian assistance and hurricane disaster relief in Haiti.

Hurricane Matthew slammed into the island nation just a few weeks ago, killing hundreds.

Iwo Jima's commander said the ship was already out at sea dodging the dangerous storm when it was sent to Haiti to help.

The USS Iwo Jima can weigh up to 40,000 tons and is about 850 feet in length.

The sailors said a hurricane can bring heavy winds and high water that cause the ship to rock and crash up against the dock, damaging the infrastructure at Naval Station Mayport, so they headed out to sea to avoid the storm.

When they got the call to help in Haiti, they were ready to respond.

“We saw a lot of debris in the water, a lot of ruin of the buildings and houses they lived in,” commanding officer Capt. James Midkiff said.

The USS Iwo Jima and its crew of more than 1,000 sailed to Norfolk to pick up hundreds of Marines and even encountered problems of its own.

"We had to fight our way out of Norfolk,” Midkiff said. “Matthew caught up to us. That wasn't a fun ride."

The crew was able to assist other military forces that responded to Haiti just hours after Matthew made impact.

"We were able to get our helicopters into a lot of remote areas where the roads were washed out and ours was the first food and water and medical supplies they received,” Midkiff said.

They delivered more than 600,000 pounds of supplies, including 800 cases of bottled water, aiding about 100,000 Haitians.

"Going out there was a little sad at first, but I knew we were going to do some good work, so that was fulfilling," Seaman Dashiva Francois said.

The devastation hit home for Francois. He's a native of Haiti, who joined the U.S. Navy about two years ago.

"It's my home, and I'm also a sailor, so anywhere we have to respond, I'll be very happy to help, and it's just a coincidence that it was my home,” Francois said.

The crew worked around the clock helping those impacted by the storm. Francois said Haiti has been through devastation before, and he is confident the country and its people will recover.

"I know the people of Haiti, and they're very strong,” Francois said. “They've been through a lot before."

The ship is now docked, and the sailors have reunited with their families.

The USS Iwo Jima will be refueled and prepared for its next mission.