Pouring concrete in Panama
Sergeants Ryan Grassley and Phillip McClure of the 115th Engineer Group, Utah Army National Guard, pour concrete for a drainage ditch that will protect the newly refurbished elementary school in Macaracas, Panama. Photo by Sgt. Justin Brice, 115th Engineer Group.

MACARACAS, Panama - U.S. Army South sent 14 Soldiers from the 115th Engineering Group, Utah Army National Guard, to Panama in early February to make repairs and improvements to schools, clinics and community centers as part of "Beyond the Horizon," a humanitarian and civic-assistance operation sponsored by U.S. Southern Command (USSOUTHCOM) to spread goodwill and build relationships with partner nations throughout Latin America and the Caribbean.

The team worked at 16 locations in the provinces of Bocas del Toro, Comarca Ngobe Bugle, Chiriqui and Los Santos. They installed fences and playground equipment, built sidewalks, painted buildings, and repaired drainage ditches, bathrooms and roofs.

"They traveled all over Panama into remote, rural areas as ambassadors of the Army and the United States, repairing buildings and doing good things," said Nico DeGreef, Chief Project Engineer with U.S. Army South. "Whatever needed fixing they did it. Not only did they improve the projects, they also engaged with people in the communities and spent a significant amount of money purchasing supplies from local merchants."

Team Leader Capt. Eric Thomas spoke of his team and the interaction he experienced with the Panamanian people.

"I can't say enough about my Soldiers and the job they have done here," said Thomas. "Sergeant Major Hardy is a consummate professional and the jack of all trades. At the end of the day he's dirtier than everyone else and the entire team just feeds off his energy. I could not ask for a better group of guys. We've gotten some good training and learned a lot. As for the people here, they are wonderful. We've had a very warm welcome everywhere we've been. They haven't forgotten that the U.S. Army has been here and built and provided for their communities.

"Kids love to come out and see the Soldiers, and we've had many of them chip in to help," he added.

On Mar. 28, a ceremony in the town of Macaracas, located 155 miles southwest of Panama City, was held in honor of the National Guardsmen's efforts and to commemorate the re-opening of the Rudencinda Rodriguez Elementary School. The school was built by U.S. servicemembers in 2005 and refurbished by the team after it sustained extensive flood damage. Representatives from several Panamanian government ministries of government, along with officials from the U.S. Embassy and U.S. Army South, enjoyed an afternoon of food and festivities that included a ribbon-cutting ceremony at the elementary school. Macaracas School children dressed in traditional Panamanian attire and performed folk dance selections honoring the Soldiers.

"We are very grateful to the American Soldiers and the American government for their generosity to our children and our citizens," said Felicidad Gutierres, Macaracas Director of Education. "My goal was to add wings to the school [to accommodate the younger children] and this has exceeded my goal."

Col. Kevin Woods, U.S. Army South's Deputy Commander for Support, thanked the Panamanian government for the enduring partnership between the two countries and for the opportunity to allow U.S. Soldiers to come help.

"The reason why U.S. Soldiers are here is because the Panamanian Government invites us and we enjoy being here," said Woods. "The Soldiers are all volunteers who see this as a great opportunity to work on their trade, contribute to a good cause and build on the bond between the U.S. and Panama. We hope in the years to come, Panama will invite us back again."

The team will continue their mission in Guatemala and conclude their portion of the operation in Belize at the end of May. U.S. Army South also has teams of engineers, medical, dental and veterinarian personnel in Honduras, Suriname and Trinidad & Tobago as part of Beyond the Horizon 2008.

Page last updated Fri July 22nd, 2011 at 12:16