RAMBALA, PROVINCIA DE BOCAS DEL TORO (NEW HORIZONS BASE CAMP), Republic of Panama -- The opening ceremony for "Nuevos Horizontes 2007", or New Horizons 2007, was held here March 23 with appearances by top-level U.S. and Panamanian officials.
William Eaton, Ambassador of the United States in Panama, and Martin Torrijos Espino, President of the Republic of Panama, were in attendance along with other high-ranking members of the Panamanian government and U.S. military. The theme for the ceremony was Estamos Unidos, which means "We Are United."
Nearly 400 military members from the U.S. Army, Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps are involved in New Horizons Panama 2007. Construction crews will build a total of seven new classrooms and two medical clinics. They will also dig water wells and construct several new roads for rural areas that currently have limited or no access. Military medical teams will provide medical and veterinarian support to different areas in Panama via nine mobile medical clinics, a temporary dental clinic and optometry services. A veterinary support exercise is also scheduled to assist villagers with livestock issues, according to Army Maj. Mark Gregris, Joint Task Force-Panama deputy commander.
"We're providing two basic functions at the core of what we're doing, improving infrastructure and providing basic healthcare," said Army Lt. Col. Thomas Jones, Joint Task Force-Panama commander. "And despite hot weather and heavy rain, the morale of the (Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen and Marines) here is incredibly high, and I think that's because they can see the immediate affects of what they're doing here and identify with how important it really is."
The infrastructure the military members are assembling here will extend into some of the most remote areas of the country in order to assist those who suffer from the most extreme poverty, according to New Horizon's officials.
Many of the individuals seen by New Horizon's military healthcare providers have walked to the clinic from very remote villages. Dentists are conducting as many as 40 extractions per day, with this being the first time they've ever had professional dental treatment.
"The U.S. has always had a large presence in Panama and when the military bases were closed here, the people of Panama were afraid that the U.S. would forget about them," said Ambassador Eaton. "New Horizons is just one of the many ways we show them we have not forgotten about them, and that we have a deep affection for Panama. This is the true face of diplomacy - people-to-people."
One of the objectives of New Horizons is to nurture relationships with host-nation counterparts in order to develop mutual trust and confidence, pursue mutually beneficial programs, and assist them in developing and supporting democratic institutions.
These projects also provide realistic joint and combined training for military engineers, medical personnel, and support troops.
"This is a win, win situation for our Soldiers and the Panamanian people," said Army Brig. Gen. Joe Mayorga, U.S. Army South deputy commander. He went on to tell first-hand accounts of gratitude he has witnessed from the Panamanian people. "We're extremely proud of the work we're doing here and the people are very grateful for the care they're receiving."
The general also said all engineering projects are currently on schedule, with completion slated for May.