By Master Sgt. Brenda BennerApril 3, 2008
PORT OF SPAIN, Trinidad - The students of The Princess Elizabeth Centre for Physically Handicapped Children will soon enjoy improvements to their facility by U.S. Marine Corps Reserve engineers and members of the Trinidad and Tobago Defense Force (TTDF).
Doing their part within the multinational and joint services humanitarian operation known as Beyond the Horizon (BTH) 2008, U.S Marine combat engineers from the 6th Engineer Support Battalion (ESB), 4th Marines Logistics Group are rotating through Trinidad building additional classrooms for the school.
BTH missions are designed to foster goodwill and improve relations between U.S. and Caribbean nations in support of the Partnership for the Americas program. United States Southern Command (USSOUTHCOM) coordinates all U.S. military activities in Latin America and the Caribbean. It has a long-term commitment to the governments of Caribbean island nations and the entire region.
Construction projects involving personnel from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the Navy Seabees and engineers from the TTDF will construct and make renovations to health clinics, two schools and an orphanage. The combination of American and T&T military personnel is known collectively as the Partnership for the Americas Engagement Team (PAET) - Caribbean.
Col. Robert Casias, the commander of PAET-Caribbean, United States Army South, said the primary focus of BTH 2008 is to build Trinidad and Tobago's capabilities to enhance its security both at home and throughout the region.
The Princess Elizabeth Centre mission is now underway, led by the USMC-R.
Eugene resident Master Sgt. Graham Hilson, a full-time inspector and instructor with Company A, 6th ESB, said the additional classrooms will be made from a Royal Building System (RBS), a pre-fabricated structure that is very sturdy and can withstand high winds.
His unit will be followed by several more rotations of Marines throughout the summer. A six-man duration team stays behind to transition each rotation of Marines.
"At this particular project, we are a combination of 6th ESB Marines from Portland and Eugene, Oregon, from Peoria, Illinois, South Bend, Ind. and even Tucson, Arizona," Hilson explained.
Lance Cpl. John Viaene, of Corvalis, Ore., whose personal three-week mission is nearly complete, said his experience has been very positive.
"It's a great opportunity that we're able to help disabled children," said Viaene, a combat engineer from 6th ESB. "Besides the classrooms, we're also building a small confidence course during our down time between the (phases of construction). The old one was made of wood about 18 years ago and it rotted out. This new one will be made of cement."
Viaene added that Marines have confidence courses that help boost their morale and it could be the same type of triumph for the children as they negotiate steps, inclines, curbs and walkways.
"The confidence course will elevate them a little above the ground - a vantage point they are not probably used to seeing," Viaene explained.
Pvt. Lennox Carr, a construction equipment driver with the TTDF, spent the afternoon working alongside the Marines as everyone helped unload two trucks of building materials.
Carr, a member of the Field Engineer Squadron, 1st Engineer Battalion, who has been leveling the ground at two different building sites, said teaming up with the Marines was interesting and their presence here in Trinidad is very helpful.
Lance Cpl. Nathan Arguien, also of Co. A, and a resident of Bend, Ore., said even though he'd rather be blowing something up as combat engineers often do, he is "learning a lot about concrete" and "having fun while working and getting to know the Trinidad guys who are very friendly and helpful."
Just as the multinational operation intends to do, BTH 2008 participants are building more than classrooms, confidence courses and one-on-one camaraderie - they are building a relationship between nations.