SONSONATE, El Salvador -- For two partner nations that are working side by side building schools and providing critical medical aid to a community that desperately needs it, selecting the right name for their respective task force was an important step in the process.
Both countries wanted names that reflected strength, hope and promise, each fundamental to the important mission of Beyond the Horizon-El Salvador.
"When it came time to name the task force, Command Sgt. Maj. [Jason] Speltz and I got together and said we need to be very deliberate on how we select a name for the task force," said Lt. Col. Raymond Valas, Joint Task Force Jaguar commander, New Hampshire National Guard. "We wanted it to be something meaningful, something that would really resonate."
Likewise, Valas' counterpart for the Salvadoran task force was equally thoughtful in selecting a name.
"We are working in a region building schools, providing medical care and dental care to a community called Acajutla in Sonsonate," said Salvadoran Col. Samuel Ruiz, Task Force Acaxual commander and Valas' counterpart. "If you trace that name back through our ancestry, Acaxual was the Mayan name for Acajutla."
Literally translated, Acaxual means the place of the turtles near the bushes, symbolizing the region the partner nations are working together in.
For the New Hampshire-led task force, many of the early ideas centered on names that were New Hampshire centric, but the U.S. personnel wanted a name representative of the Salvadoran people and the region.
"We wanted something that would symbolize where we were going, something that would symbolize strength and would symbolize hope," continued Valas. "We went through a lot of ideas, pages of ideas."
The jaguar which was once heavily populated in El Salvador and throughout Central America has seen their population reduced in the region.
"We came across the jaguar and we looked at what it meant, it was a symbol of strength … we realized as a species, it's under consideration to be re-introduced in this region," Valas said. "The jaguar could symbolize hope and rebirth here and that's so much at the core of what we are doing here."
Airmen and Soldiers are here as part of a U.S. Southern Command-sponsored, U.S. Army South planned and led joint and combined field training humanitarian exercise in which U.S. active duty, National Guard, and Reserve servicemembers specializing in engineering, construction and health care, working along-side partner nation personnel, provide much-needed services to communities in need while receiving valuable deployment training and building important relationships with partner nations.