By LTC Robert WhetstoneApril 24, 2013
SONSONATE, El Salvador -- Although work for Beyond the Horizon-El Salvador actually began March 30, the Salvadoran Ministry of Defense, U.S. Embassy and U.S. Army South made it official with an opening ceremony at a new school construction site in San Marcos, El Salvador, April 18.
"The purpose of the BTH 13 exercise in El Salvador is people helping people, humanitarian assistance, disaster response preparedness, and relationship building," said Brig. Gen. Orlando Salinas, the Army South deputy commanding general.
Members of the official party, Salvadoran Gen. José Atilio Benítez Parada, Salvadoran Ministry of Defense, Sean Murphy, Chargé d'affaires of the United States Embassy, and Salinas, arrived by helicopter causing quite a stir of excitement in the small rural town of San Marcos.
Beyond the Horizon 2013 is a U.S. Southern Command, Army South-led, joint-training exercise that began in late March and runs through late June. Military Engineers and medical professionals are teaming up with Salvadoran professionals to bring much needed assistance in rural areas of the country.
"The Salvadoran military and our U.S. Task Force Jaguar are working hand in hand to deliver medical, education, and engineering services to select communities in the spirit of cooperation, inter-service integration and interoperability," said Salinas.
The government of El Salvador requested the BTH task force provide focused humanitarian services to areas throughout the country. Specifically, these services include public health and preventive medicine, dental care, adult and pediatric medicine, medical education, immunizations, and nutritional counseling.
Task Force Jaguar will execute two medical readiness exercises, one dental readiness exercise and one veterinary readiness exercise. In addition, engineering teams will build three schools and four bathroom facilities at various sites for the school children.
Task Force Jaguar is led by Lt. Col. Raymond Valas from the New Hampshire National Guard.
"As the task force commander for this exercise I'm responsible for the engineering sites, medical projects, and veterinary projects, along with all the logistical support," said Valas. "We have a very diverse task force of engineers from the United States, El Salvador, Colombia, and Chile; and medical personnel from El Salvador, the U.S, Canada and Colombia, all working together to make this exercise happen."
The primary goal is to train U.S. forces in an austere, real world field environment, and to promote the goodwill and security interests of the U.S. and El Salvador.
The exercise goes much farther than simple wood, rebar, concrete and medical attention, it gets at the core of shaping partnerships with neighboring countries.
Salvadoran and U.S. Soldiers will have plenty of assistance from other countries throughout the entirety of the exercise. Military engineers and medical personnel from Colombia, Chile, and Canada are providing their expertise, making this endeavor a cooperative, synchronized effort that began with the planning process 18 months ago. These elements provide the nucleus of Joint Task Force Jaguar, working tirelessly to improve the way of life for local residents.
With all the different parts that make up the task force, maneuvering through unique obstacles is a constant focus for the leadership.
"We face different challenges every day," said Valas. "Some of them are minor; some are a little more complex. Anytime you are working together with five countries you have to overcome language barriers, operating in remote areas that can be a challenge to get to. Everyday there's something new that adds a different wrinkle that in the end enhances our training."
The first rotation of Soldiers funneled into El Salvador and immediately began work at construction sites. The Soldiers come from various units in the U.S. and are using their specific military skills as engineers, surveyors, heavy equipment operators and mechanics to accomplish their mission to not only build schools, but build lasting relationships as well. Soldiers will continue to rotate in every two weeks to perform their jobs. All construction, medical, dental and other projects are expected to be completed by late June.
"What we're doing here is more than just a training exercise," said Valas. "The result of all the experience that our engineers are getting building this school leaves a lasting benefit for the people of El Salvador and you can see it in their faces every day."