WASHINGTON _ Add plumbers, carpenters and forklift operators from Kansas to the doctors, nurses and other volunteers from around the globe who were involved in the humanitarian relief effort in Haiti.
They were part of a civil engineering unit from the Kansas Air National Guard, which arrived last month after an earthquake that left utter destruction and an estimated 230,000 people dead.
Local services were virtually nonexistent. Food was a problem. Many buildings were either destroyed or unsafe, and thousands lived in makeshift shelters often no sturdier than a sheet held up by a tree branch.
The tasks of the 46 Guard members were not the stuff of operating room heroics or miraculous rescues from the rubble.
But in a place devoid of many of even the most basic amenities, the Kansas troops made life a little easier for the people who had come to help, to say nothing of the disaster's victims. They built portable hospitals and landing zones, set up emergency utilities and erected tent cities.
"We plan out where the latrines go, where the showers go, where the kitchen and dining facilities go and make sure they are up and running," Master Sgt. Carren Christianson, of the 190th Civil Engineering Squadron based in Topeka, said by phone from Haiti.
The unit also included a few members from the 184th Intelligence Wing from Wichita. Together, the roster boasted many of the construction trades. Besides plumbers and carpenters, there were electricians and heavy-equipment operators.
The unit also included a couple of civil engineers, as well as some members whose civilian careers were far afield from the task at hand, such as a videographer and a photographer.
"You have all these different people from different walks of life," said Capt. Joe Blubaugh, a spokesman for the guard. "They've basically had to go into an area where there is no infrastructure and build infrastructure. That's exactly what they're doing."
The Haiti assignment turned to be a matter of being in the right place at the right time. Medical missions are a specialty of the 190th. It was responsible for setting up the emergency hospital in Greensburg three years ago after a tornado wiped out most of the town.
As bad as that was, Lt. Col. Mark Green of Shawnee, commander of the 190th in Haiti who led the Greensburg operation, said "the magnitude of this devastation is certainly much greater."
When the earthquake hit Jan. 12, the troops were in Cuba on a training exercise at the American military base in Guantanamo Bay. Suddenly training was out. Nature's destructive power had presented them with a real-world situation.
The unit was supposed to be gone only two weeks. But it landed at the Port-au-Prince airport a week after the quake and set up camp. Most of the unit is expected to return home this weekend, but a few will stay behind.
"The devastation is bad," said Master Sgt. Lee Buttel of Wichita, 49, a veteran of the Greensburg mission who served tours in Iraq and elsewhere. "People are living on the streets. It always gets you down that you can't do more than you can do. But we're doing what needs to be done right now."
Christianson, a 43-year-old civilian employee at Forbes Air Force Base in Topeka when she isn't in uniform, said they did rudimentary city planning on a small scale. The team she was on mapped out sites, measured for tents and marked the boundaries, and then the carpenters and other skilled troops moved in.
"We changed peoples' lives," Christianson said. "People said to us, 'Do you realize what you have done? You just built a hospital!' "
It will take years before Haiti returns to some kind of normalcy. The country is short of everything right now, even crutches.
Green said that he knows the work his troops did is not the war-as-glory depicted in the movies that he has watched with his twin 15-year-old sons.
"I'm taking care of the air conditioning and making sure the toilets flush," he said. "That probably doesn't sound too exciting."
Still, he thinks someday they'll grasp the importance of the mission.
"I think they will be very proud," Green said.