By Matthew J. Wilson, Missouri National GuardApril 2, 2012
FORT LEONARD WOOD, Mo. (March 29, 2012) -- Missouri National Guardsmen from the 35th Engineer Brigade recently deployed to Coban, Guatemala, to coordinate a real-world mission that will develop Soldiers' skills.
Known as "Beyond the Horizon, Guatemala 2012," the mission, led by Task Force Arriero commander, Lt. Col. John Findley, is to construct or refurbish schools and medical clinics in the area over the next four months.
"I'm looking forward to this," said Findley, who lives in Eldon, Mo. "Our main goal is to increase the readiness of U.S. personnel in their job specialties. It also increases a Soldier's overall appreciation of other countries and working with our partner nations."
About 300 servicemen and women from a total of 26 units, from several military branches and components, will rotate in every two weeks to perform their jobs. Those jobs include anything from cooks to engineers to doctors.
The task force stuck to its Missouri roots with the selection of the name Arriero, which is Spanish for "mule drover."
The Missouri National Guard decided on the Task Force name of "Arriero" as a tribute to the pioneering spirit of Missouri, its people and the animal itself.
The Missouri Guard's 1140th Engineer Battalion, of Cape Girardeau, is set for a similar mission - Beyond the Horizon, Honduras 2012 -- that will coincide with the Guatemala mission.
The partnership between the Missouri Guard Engineers and countries in Central America isn't new.
"Back in the 80s and 90s, the Missouri Engineer Brigade was heavily involved in Central America," Findley said. "We got away from that."
Brig. Gen. Randy Alewel, commander of the 35th Engineer Brigade, said his goal is to "build up our relationships and partnerships that we had in that area."
The last time the Missouri Guard sent a task force to Guatemala was in 2007.
The entire Guatemala mission, as well as the one to Honduras, is the result of the Missouri Guard's working relationship with United States Army South.
"We have a contingency support brigade relationship with United States Army South, which basically means we are involved in all exercises Army South does and the two Beyond the Horizon missions this year are part of that," Findley said. "We are further developing our relationship with Army South and trying to get Missouri back into Central America."
Maj. Adam Reichart, Task Force Arriero operations and executive officer, said allowing Missouri to run both Beyond the Horizons missions displays Army South's confidence in the Missouri Guard.
"That shows the flexibility of the Missouri Guard, that we're running two big exercises by providing command and control and a number of supporting units to this simultaneously," said Reichart. "
The brigade is providing about 70 Soldiers to act as the full-time staff for the exercise as other units rotate in for two weeks.
"It's really a joint mission," Reichart said. "We've got support from the Guard, Reserves and Navy -- really all of the above."
Missouri Guard units that are expected to provide about 50 Soldiers for each rotation include the 203rd Engineer Battalion, of Joplin, and the 276th Engineer Company, of Pierce City.
"A lot of our young Soldiers that have graduated advanced individual training will now get a chance to go out and do a real-world mission that will benefit the people of Guatemala, as well as let them pick up and use their skill," Reichart said. "A lot of those skills are taught in class at advanced individual training, but they don't actually get to practice them as a team. This will build teamwork, camaraderie and lets them perfect those skills. That will benefit the state of Missouri when these Soldiers are called upon for state emergency duty or deployments."
The projects are expected to be completed by mid July, when everyone is scheduled to return home.
Reichart said the task force will oversee the new construction of at least one school and a clinic, as well as a roof replacement on a clinic, and a bathroom renovation at another clinic.
Reichart said the Missouri Guard also will work with the Reserves and Air Force on three Medical and Dental Readiness Training Exercises, where citizens of Guatemala will receive free health care.
"That will obviously help out the people of Guatemala, all the while providing training and real-world experience for our Soldiers and Airmen," Reichart said.
Those exercises will last between five and 10 days in three different areas within an hour of Coban.
About 16 Missouri Guardsmen had been in Guatemala for two weeks as part of the advance party and had been prepping for the arrival of an additional 55 who showed up March 25.
"They have been signing for our buildings, getting the reception area and initial communication set up," Reichart said. "They are also shaking hands and starting relationships with the Guatemalans."
Reichart said a great deal of planning has been put into the mission, one that he became assigned to full time in October of 2011.
"Up to that point, they had already done a recon to Guatemala and had settled on a site and the projects for us to do," he said. "Obviously you have to put a budget together and bring units in. It takes a lot of coordination and cross talking to get everything linked up where you can actually get your units from their home station trained and on location to do their jobs."
Reichart said it has been a great learning experience.
"A lot of planning and coordination goes into tying all the services together for a joint mission," he said. "It's outstanding to get that training. It makes you think outside the box and lets you know what other services are out there and their capabilities."
The majority of the training Guardsmen were required to complete before going to Guatemala was through online courses. The courses included topics such as escape, evasion and survival as it pertained to Guatemala, anti-terrorism, human rights and personnel recovery.
For more information about the Missouri National Guard, please visit www.moguard.com.