By Staff Sgt. Fredrick Varney, 131st Mobile Public Affairs DetachmentApril 24, 2017
LADYVILLE, Belize -- Not even inclement weather was able to put a damper on the spirits of the children living at the Liberty Children's Home here as U.S. service members visited to lend a helping hand, April 18.
The soldiers' visit is was part of the Beyond the Horizon 2017 task force.
Beyond the Horizon is a partnership exercise between the government of Belize and U.S. Southern Command. This year's exercise will provide three free medical service events and five construction projects throughout Belize from March 25 until June 17.
The task force's information operations cell coordinated the volunteer effort that included a wide range of helpful and needed services and activities.
Service members spent their day removing safety hazards from the property, playing a variety of games with the children and providing basic medical examinations.
"There was a low-hanging tree over one of the housing units, and we decided to cut it down and get it out of the way," said Army Spc. Rudy Sneed, a shower and laundry specialist with the 452nd Quartermaster Company, an Army Reserve unit based in Scottsdale, Arizona. "We were afraid the tree might fall and cause serious damage to the property."
Michael Burkhardt, an American missionary with Ladyville Baptist Church, attended the community relations event and assisted service members with the tree removal process.
"This has been a great day to be here with the troops and be able to get some projects done," Burkhardt said. "We couldn't have done it without them."
REMOVING HAZARDOUS TREES
Burkhardt said removing the hazardous trees had been a top priority over the last two missionary trips, but they didn't have the manpower to accomplish the project.
Army Capt. Julio Vargas, a chaplain with the 448th Engineer Battalion, an Army Reserve unit from Puerto Rico, brought his travel guitar to the event and played several songs for the children.
"The No. 1 priority for today's event was interacting with the children," Vargas said. "We sang songs together and ate popcorn, which I think the children really enjoyed."
Once the outdoor events and activities had concluded, several health care providers from the Utah National Guard Medical Command arrived to provide free check-ups for the children.
"We wanted to come over here and provide basic physical exams for the children," said Army Maj. Samantha Madsen, the task force's medical planner. "Our providers are checking for irregular curvatures of the spine, providing eye exams, and evaluating issues related to the ears, nose and throat."
Before departing for the day, service members presented the children with a Beyond the Horizon 2017 gift bag that contained notebooks, notepads, pens and toys.
Army Sgt. 1st Class Eric Ritchey, a team leader with the 413th Civil Affairs Battalion, helped to pass out the gift bags during the presentation.
"It's always good to do something for people, but when you see those smiles on the faces of the kids it really means so much," Ritchey said.