Recognizing a Haiti hero

PHHP honors U.S. military leader of Haiti disaster relief

Dean Michael G. Perri presents a plaque to Lt. Gen. Ken Keen, leader of the U.S. military’s response to the Haiti earthquake. Keen’s wife Mary Ellen, an alumna of UF’s rehabilitation counseling program, and daughter Marta look on. Photo by Jesse S. Jones.

In September the College of Public Health and Health Professions honored Lt. Gen. P. K. (Ken) Keen, the leader of the U.S. military’s operation in Haiti following the January earthquake.

Keen, who received a master’s degree in Latin American studies from UF in 1986, is the military deputy commander of U.S. Southern Command. At a lecture for PHHP students and faculty, Keen described his experience directing the largest and longest overseas U.S. military disaster response.

Factors that contributed to the success of the U.S. military’s response included close collaboration between the military and non-governmental agencies, and President Obama’s swift declaration of full support for the relief effort, Keen said.

“Our military immediately turned every asset we had available towards Haiti,” he said. “Literally we were turning aircraft carriers around overnight, within hours, heading them to Haiti.”

Keen has provided invaluable assistance to the college’s “Better Tomorrow for Haiti” team, said Dean Michael G. Perri. With Keen’s help, team members traveled to Haiti within a week of the earthquake to provide medical care and supplies. Keen has supported the team’s ongoing efforts by helping to facilitate a vaccination program in Leogane, Haiti, and introducing team members to key government officials.

“From chaos you brought order,” Perri told the general when presenting him with a plaque on behalf of the college. “You brought relief to suffering. And probably most importantly, there was a lot of fear and despair and through your efforts and leadership you brought hope back to the people of Haiti.”