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Kittson County deputy sheriff joins daughter in Haiti

Jim Hewitt will join his daughter, Lacey (left), in Haiti. Also pictured is his daughter, Ashlee.

GRAND FORKS -- Jim Hewitt, a Kittson County deputy sheriff who spent a year in Iraq helping to train Iraqi border police, is on his way overseas again -- to Haiti, for a working reunion with daughter Lacey.

Lacey Hewitt, 26, has worked since August with Haitian orphans and lived through last week's earthquake. Her father has taken a leave from work to help rebuild the orphanage and, with an experienced lawman's eye, assess security around his daughter.

"First thing I'll do, though, is give her a big hug," he said Tuesday.

Hewitt had planned to leave for Haiti on Monday, but the flight to Minneapolis and a flight from Florida to Haiti were canceled. He's making new arrangements and hopes to be in the Caribbean country "within a couple of days."

He plans to stay about three weeks, helping other volunteers rebuild a wall that guarded the shelter and repair food storage areas destroyed in the quake.

With reports coming out of Haiti of riots, looting and shooting, he also plans to look hard at the security situation.

"If I think it's totally unsafe, I'll bring her home," he said. "But she doesn't seem too worried."

A benefit concert is planned in Grand Forks' Empire Theater on Monday, and support the family has received from friends and others in the region has been "unbelievable and heart-warming," Hewitt said.

"People have been ringing our phone off the hook, asking 'What can I do?' A neighbor showed up last night with money, and three people at work each gave a hundred or a couple hundred dollars. Others donated vacation time."

Someone paid for his airline ticket, too.

Kim Grinna, Lacey Hewitt's aunt in Des Moines, Iowa, started a project to support her when she first volunteered at the orphanage in October, encouraging children to collect baby formula and dried milk. "Children helping children," the effort is called, and mother Kelli Hewitt said that she's working with a Grand Forks radio station to start a schools-based project here.

The family's church, Lancaster Covenant, also has collected formula, and an area truck driver has volunteered to haul the vital supplies to Florida for shipment to Haiti.

Fatigue to upbeat

Jim Hewitt will go to Haiti with his wife's blessing, though it means Kelli Hewitt will have another loved one living amid severe conditions far from home.

"I'm pretty excited about it," she said. "I'm nervous, but I'm excited."

She's also excited about improved prospects for some of the Haitian orphans to be allowed to leave for the U.S., including some the Hewitts are arranging to adopt -- adding to their current total of 13 children, some of whom they adopted years ago from Haiti.

A flight carrying 53 Haitian orphans arrived in Pennsylvania on Monday, escorted by Gov. Ed Rendell, after their orphanage in another part of the Port-au-Prince area was destroyed by the 7.0 earthquake.

"It looks very positive that we'll be able to bring our kids home," Kelli Hewitt said. "We've been really busy, finishing the paperwork and getting visas for these kids."

Her concern for Lacey rose on Monday when she heard fatigue in her daughter's voice.

"She was totally exhausted, I could tell," Kelli Hewitt said. "I know that when she's very tired, nothing feels positive to her.

"But we talked with her this (Tuesday) morning, and she sounded so much better."

Jim Hewitt had the same reaction.

"You know your kids' voices," he said. "She's been working hard, not sleeping, and I could tell she was really tired. She needed to go to bed, and she apparently did. She sounded really upbeat (Tuesday), well-rested."

Lacey also sounded upbeat in her latest entry on her blog (

"Yesterday was a good day; we are finally getting things cleaned up, and I think I'm just doing better because I'm somewhat caught up on my sleep!" she wrote.

"The kids are doing GREAT. This morning I woke up to a few cribs with diarrhea and throw up -- but we got it cleaned up quickly. I do believe the babies are just a little stressed with different living conditions, different milk, etc., and last night was the first night they actually slept in their own cribs."

'Hero and Dad'

Before Jim Hewitt left for Iraq in spring 2008, Lacey wrote about it in her blog. The entry reflected pride, faith and concern -- and anticipated how her family would feel about her when she went into harm's way.

"Hero, best friend, provider, protector and Dad -- Jim Hewitt," she wrote then. "He's leaving his whole family and everyone he really loves to fight for our country. He is on his way to Iraq any day now.

"As much as I miss him already, I know he'll be OK and come home to us all safely. For some reason I feel selfish for not wanting him to go. I know it's what he wanted to do and I know he needs our support more than anything right now!"

Jim Hewitt had two years' experience as a U.S. Border Patrol agent, working the border with Mexico, followed by 12 years with U.S. Customs and Border Protection. He became a Kittson County deputy in 2002.

In Iraq, he lived with U.S. Marines while training Iraqis to better secure their borders and slow traffic from Iran and Syria of improvised explosive devices (IEDs), which were taking the lives of many U.S. soldiers and Marines.

"It was a really good experience," he said. "We did some good work over there."

It also helped to prepare him for Haiti.

"Living in a third world country ravaged by war took away some of the fear of the unknown," he said.