BANDUNG, Indonesia - Col. Tony Diaz spent his summers as a boy on his grandfather's ranch in Panama away from the comfortable confines of his childhood home in New York.
The summers were filled with limited electricity, sparse running water and familiarizations of the damage poverty can have on people.

"They had nothing," said Diaz, whose grandfather, Juan, fled Spain and the country's civil war in the 1930s to get a medical degree in Panama. Diaz, 55, of Honolulu, established a caring spirit in those hot summers that turned into a lifelong goal of eradicating poverty.

One of his latest humanitarian efforts, Operation Garuda Shield 2010, a month-long seven-nation peacekeeping and building project exercise in Bandung, Indonesia, concluded June 22.

The 797th Engineering Company, 411th Engineering Battalion, Guam reservists, spent the month working with Indonesian army engineers to build a baby-care clinic, a community center and a water-retaining system. Platoons from Bangladesh, Brunei, Nepal, the Philippines, Thailand, Indonesia and the United States also participated in United Nations peacekeeping exercises evaluated by contracted subject matter experts from the Global Peace Operations Initiative.
Capt. Alejandro Buniag, commander of the 797th Engineering Company, said he knows he has to be thoroughly prepared for every briefing because of Diaz's extensive background in engineering. "He really knows his stuff," he said.

Diaz received a degree in engineering from the United States Military Academy in 1980.
He knew as an engineer in the Army, he would be able to travel the world, help people and work in what he described as his life's mission-helping people.

Aside from his duties as G-3 for the 9th Mission Support Command, Hawaii Reserve, and commanding officer of Operation Garuda Shield 2010 for the past three years, Diaz also works as the regional director and manager for Asian projects conducted by the Parsons Corporation, an engineering and construction firm.

Parsons received a contract from the United States federal government in 2005 after tsunami waves killed nearly 200,000 people in Indonesia.

Diaz is in charge of building projects that continue today in Aceh, Indonesia. He visits the area about once a month for his job in the private sector, he said.

"My job in the private sector and the Army intertwine in a way," he said. "I really enjoy what I'm doing because I know we are making a difference for many families who need help."
Diaz said he will retire from the Army next year and that 2011 will be his final year as the commander of Garuda Shield.

"I really appreciate how this exercise has matured in the past three years," he said. "It's come from rather modest beginnings and transformed into an excellent training exercise where we also get to do a lot for the people."

The majority of the soldiers involved in the exercise flew home Wednesday. Diaz stayed behind for a quick visit to the Marga Mulya and Nyomplong, villages where the building projects took place this year. He wanted to deliver two computers and backpacks to children living in those communities.

For Diaz, the joy of helping people takes him back to those warm summers in Panama, gaining satisfaction from fulfilling his lifelong mission.

"That's what it's all about," he said. "To see the looks of appreciation from even the youngest children in the regions, it really is a great feeling."

Page last updated Mon June 28th, 2010 at 15:12