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Area Navy officer helps out in Haiti

Travis Gentz, Navy petty officer third class, was aboard the U.S.S. Nassau, which helped distribute meals, water, medical supplies, radios and baby food to victims of the Haiti earthquake.

The catastrophic earthquake that rocked the tiny island nation of Haiti on Jan. 12 has evoked an enormous response worldwide.

U.S. military forces have mobilized in support of Haiti, in a joint relief effort known as Operation Unified Response -- and Richville's own Travis Gentz was among the thousands of military personnel deployed to Haiti's shores as part of that mission.

Gentz, who currently holds the rank of Navy petty officer third class, is serving as an information systems technician (IT) aboard the U.S.S. Nassau.

The Nassau, an amphibious landing assault ship that is part of the Nassau Amphibious Ready Group/24th Marine Expeditionary Unit, was diverted from its scheduled deployment to the Middle East on Jan. 20, and sent to Haiti in support of Operation Unified Response.

The ship remained just off the coast of Haiti until Sunday, Feb. 7, when it headed back toward its original destination, across the Atlantic to the Middle East. Its eventual destination, Gentz said, will be the Persian Gulf.

While in Haiti, the U.S.S. Nassau distributed 57,368 meals; 1,365,617 pounds of rice; 30,776 bottles of water; 3,260 pounds of medical supplies; 2,781 hand-crank radios; and 79,656 jars of baby food, according to Chief Petty Officer Christopher Hoffpauier, who serves as public relations officer for the Nassau.

Besides ferrying supplies, the Nassau also supplied backup facilities for the primary medical ship, the U.S.S. Comfort.

The Nassau also assisted in the reunion of a mother with her newborn child, Hoffpauir said -- the baby was brought on board after being discovered in a cardboard box. The mother was subsequently located aboard the Comfort.

"She had given birth at a field hospital, and they (mother and child) got separated and placed on different planes -- so we got them back together," Hoffpauir said.

Though he did not go ashore in Haiti, Gentz said he helped keep all incoming and outgoing communications aboard the Nassau running smoothly.

"It (communications) interested me right from the start -- I like working with computers and communications (systems)," Gentz said of his reasons for choosing IT as his specialty after joining the Navy a year and a half ago.

As for choosing military life, Gentz said it was something of a family tradition.

"Being in the Navy was something I always wanted to do -- my grandfather was in the Navy and so was my father (Paul Gentz, who now lives in St. Cloud)," he said. Gentz's mother, Nancy Hendrickson and stepfather, Steve Hendrickson, still live in Richville.

A 2008 graduate of Perham High School, Gentz left for Navy basic training about three months after graduation. He was assigned to the Nassau shortly thereafter.

Though he admits to missing some things about life back in Minnesota, Gentz said he is enjoying the challenges of his fledgling military career.

"I've benefited a lot from the training I've gotten in my job -- it teaches me supervisory abilities, leadership abilities," Gentz said. "There are some things I don't like (about the Navy) but overall it has changed me for the better."

One of the perks of being a communications officer, Gentz noted, is having fairly ready access to phone service.

"I have the ability to call home almost any time I want," he said.

Though there are some parts of his job that might be considered routine, Gentz added, the ship holds regular drills such as rescuing a man who has fallen overboard or surviving an attack by other ships and even missiles.

"They keep us on our toes," he said. "They won't let you get too comfortable."

Though he's not quite certain what he will do once his tour of duty aboard the Nassau is finished, Gentz said he's looking at options both inside and outside the military.

"I have until 2013 to decide what I want to do," he said.

But for now, he's content to be right where he is.

"My parents are proud of me," he said. "They brag about me all the time -- or that's what they tell me anyway."

Vicki Gerdes

Staff writer at Detroit Lakes Newspapers for the past 16 years, currently editor of the entertainment and community pages as well as covering city council and the Lake Park-Audubon School Board. Living in DL with my cat, Smokey.

(218) 844-1454