Friday, June 17, 2016 12:00 pm
Gordon County resident Heath Mitchell enjoys helping keep the peace in Haiti
Heath Mitchell enjoyed his three weeks home in Calhoun beginning mid-May. The 1987 graduate of Gordon Central High School is the Deputy Contingency Commander for DynCorp, a private military contractor for the United Nations. Mitchell has served in Haiti since August 2015 on a peacekeeping mission.
Mitchell has 25 years of policing experience, which is how he found his way to working within the United Nations. “I was at the Cartersville Police Department for 15 years, and then I was a training officer for the Calhoun Police Department for two years,” said Mitchell. “I got offered a chief of police job in Nelson, Georgia and that’s where I retired from.”
“Back in 2000, while I was at Cartersville, they (DynCorp) had recruited me to go over to Iraq,” said Mitchell. “It was really bad there at that time, so I decided against it. DynCorp contacted me again later for Haiti. So, I started going through the process with them. It took over a year. I never thought it was going to happen.”
Mitchell’s peacekeeping mission is two-fold: to help keep the peace during the national elections and to continue to offer support to the country after the 2010 earthquake that left Haiti devastated.
“The main thing that the U.N. is there for is, Haiti is going through an election process,” said Mitchell. “It’s a mess. The election process can be fatal. I went through two rounds so far and the last round, they didn’t even have them (elections). Now, we are hearing that they are going to attempt them (elections) again in October. The violence over there would surprise you. The week before I left (to come home on break), approximately 500 militants were backing this one guy running for president and the militants stormed one of the police precincts in Lacota. A bunch of folks were killed.”
The government of Haiti is a semi-presidential republic. The president of Haiti is the head of the country and elected directly by popular elections. The Prime Minister is appointed by the President of Haiti and acts as head of government. Both the President of Haiti and Prime Minister who both govern together employs executive power.
Haitian politics have been contentious throughout the years, and since their independence, Haiti has suffered 32 coups.
According to Mitchell, the Haitian’s are passionate about their elections. “If we had that much passion about our elections, people would show up and vote and not take that for granted,” said Mitchell about elections in the United States. “It’s sad that they are willing to die for their elections. That’s what blows my mind.”
When asked if he believes the elections will go forward, Mitchell answered, “It’s a toss-up. It could happen or they could cancel the elections again.”
While there to help with the elections, Mitchell says that some Haitians do not understand. “We are there to help,” said Mitchell of the mission. “We are there to protect them and to help the economy. They turn on us at times.”
“The police have a curfew,” said Mitchell of his position in Haiti. “We have to be in at a certain time. It helps keep the peace. They sometimes try to turn our vehicles over.”
Mitchell is also there to provide support during the recovery. “The country is rebuilding since the earthquake in 2010,” said Mitchell. “But you look in some areas and it hasn’t changed from the day of the earthquake. It just amazes me everyday. It’s one of the things that is exciting about this job; it’s not boring. It is surprising to me that a place like this still exists.”
Mitchell was originally brought to Haiti to help with the drug problem; his background in policing was working with drug dogs, but things changed from almost the moment he arrived. “I was originally supposed to work with the drugs and dogs when I arrived. I went through assessment tests when I got there and I made too high on the tests,” said Mitchell. “The next day, they took me out of induction training and interviewed me for a job in personnel with human resources.”
Mitchell’s rise in Haiti was fast. An American had not worked in personnel previously. “That was in August. In October, I was nominated to attend an assessment certification class that I did not even know what it was for,” said Mitchell.
The certification was for a position as an Assessment for Mission Service (AMS) Instructor. Assessment for Mission Service is the mandatory process to determine whether an individual police officer from a Member State meets the minimum requirements to serve as United Nations police officer. An AMS instructor is a staff member of the Police Division or a serving United Nations police officer who is certified by the Selection and Recruitment Section to conduct a Member State-based or in-mission AMS.
“Everyone was making a big deal about it,” said Mitchell. “I didn’t meet the requirements. I didn’t speak fluent French. It was my first assignment. I had not been there six months. I was told to feel good that the higher-ups felt impressed with me to get nominated.”
“The chief of staff came to me later in a meeting and told me, ‘they’ve picked your name to send to New York’,” said Mitchell of the continuation of the process. “But I was reminded that I didn’t have the qualifications and that New York would not pick me.”
“The following Sunday, the chief of staff’s office came to my desk and said, ‘you start class in the morning at 8 o’clock.’ I still didn’t know what (the certification) it’s about.”
“I found out at the class that this is a certification that only 14 people were chosen for out of all the U.N. personnel,” said Mitchell. “
The certification he took classes for was for a position to test other potential U.N. personnel for missions in other countries. The classes were brutal; only a 40 percent pass rate and the classes were only offered in French. Despite his lack of knowledge in French, Mitchell passed the certification in October 2015.
“I was about to cry,” joked Mitchell. “I couldn’t understand the instructor; he was speaking French. It was hard and it was a lot of information to learn.”
Only six of the 14 passed the certification.
“They only use me for English speaking officers,” said Mitchell of his position.
Mitchell is, for the most part, enjoying his time in Haiti and has put in for his first extension for six additional months. “After the first year, you are allowed to extend in six-month increments,” said Mitchell. “The extension I just applied for will take me through February 2017.”
“They’ve already talked to me about going to Sudan, if that mission is continuing when I am done in Haiti,” said Mitchell. “I told them I was interested in going to the Middle East after this is over, but we’ll see.”
Mitchell enjoys his job in Haiti. “We work seven days a week and we stay in a beautiful place in Port-au-Prince at the main base at Delta Camp,” said Mitchell. “We are the nucleus of the whole mission. My job there is, I interview possible candidates for officer positions. I do a phone interview with them. I then give either my approval or disapproval. I then contact New York who sets everything up and it might be two months, but if they get hired, they come to Port-au-Prince and they will come to an assessment class and we assess them to see what spots we can put them in based on their experience.”
At the end of the day, Mitchell is honored at what he’s doing and appreciates what it’s teaching him. “It’s interesting. I love meeting new people. I deal with 86 different nations. I’m learning French. I enjoy it. It’s something different every day.”