FORT BLISS, Texas - Trading the Caribbean Sea for the Persian Gulf, Puerto Rican Soldiers with the 215th Vertical Engineer Company, Army National Guard, departed from the Silas L. Copeland Arrival/Departure Airfield Control Group here Feb. 2 in support of Operation Freedom's Sentinel.

Along with 207th Horizontal Engineer Company, Kentucky ANG, the unit will support construction, maintenance and demolition missions at Camp Buehring, Kuwait. They will also upkeep facilities and utilities throughout the installation.

"We will be working hand and hand with the 207th … to improve the Soldier's lives as they are deployed. We are going to keep all the facilities and utilities in good condition, including plumbing, electricity and billeting," said Capt. Luis Camacho Santiago, commander, 215th Eng. Co.

The 215th Eng. Co. supported a similar construction mission in support of Operation Beyond the Horizon 2014 where they work with U.S. Southern Command to construct schools, clinics, bridges and other vital infrastructure in Guatemala. They also have additional experience from being activated during hurricane seasons where the unit members assisted in the removal of debris.

With a strong understanding of vertical engineering and implementation, initial training involved a refresher in Soldiering skills such as marksmanship, drill and online courses before coming here for more advanced tactics such as operating heavy equipment and responding to hostile fire.

"We know a lot of construction work so the combat aspect of the training helped us the most," said Spc. Luis Delgado-Moya, carpentry and masonry specialist, 215th Eng. Co. "Knowing how to operate all the equipment and (operate in a tactical environment) give us confidence for our mission overseas."

Having deployed before, Santiago stressed the importance of the training and what to encounter while overseas. He also feels the Soldiers are well prepared for working in austere environments from experiences conduct operations without power or accommodations.

"The training sites here were unique. It was more realistic for the unit. We conducted convoy operations, communication operations and (practiced) reacting to different types of attacks," Santiago said. "Soldiers were very motivated, were are not used to this type of weather but even with this cold temperature everyone was very excited and motivation remained very high."

Soldiers are encouraged to take courses to further their military and civilian careers during their off time, and the unit plans to have all of its Soldiers to complete the Army Physical Fitness Test while overseas.

Joining the 215th Eng. Co., from the 1156th Eng. Co. out of New York, first-time deployer Spc. Brenda Ortiz, carpentry and masonry specialist, said she hopes to use her skills as a nurse from her civilian life to take care of her fellow Soldiers. She also plans to work towards her master's degree while overseas to further her goal of becoming a commissioned officer.

"I'm really excited. We work together in Puerto Rico, that's our forte," Ortiz said. "We think the unit is going to be a really good asset in Kuwait."