JCOC Delivers School Supplies, Soccer Balls to Hondurans
By Fred W. Baker III
American Forces Press Service
SOTO CANO AIR BASE, Honduras , Apr. 25, 2008 As Chris Camacho passed out soccer balls yesterday to a smiling group of local children in a dusty village just down the road from here, he thought of his father, who grew up in an impoverished area of Guadalajara, Mexico, and used to play soccer using a tube sock stuffed with rolled-up newspapers.
Chris Camacho, president and chief executive officer of the Greater Yuma Economic Development Corporation in Yuma, Ariz., plays soccer with Honduran children during a delivery of school and recreational supplies to their village April 24, 2008. Camacho is a participant in the Joint Civilian Orientation Conference sponsored by the Defense Department. Photo by Fred W. Baker III, Department of Defense
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
“It took me back to him telling stories about his life growing up and of when they would have people bring them gifts,” Camacho said. “When I was looking at the balls we were ready to distribute, it was definitely a moving experience, and I wanted to jump out there and just knock the ball around a little bit to see the joy on their face.”
Camacho is president and chief executive officer of the Greater Yuma Economic Development Corporation in Yuma, Ariz. He is here as part of the Joint Civilian Orientation Conference, a Defense Department outreach program that exposes business and community leaders to the U.S. military around the world. This JCOC, the 75th in the series, is spending the week touring U.S. Southern Command’s area of operations.
Exercising both his Spanish and his soccer skills, Camacho -- a former NCAA All-American soccer player -- kicked up the dust in a sparse, makeshift field for a few minutes with a handful of children as others in his group finished giving away school supplies.
In their stop here, Camacho and the 47 other JCOC participants delivered school supplies, soccer balls, and other recreational equipment to local children while just down the road, U.S. Army soldiers were preparing the ground for the foundation of a new school.
“These kids were smiling ear to ear like it was Christmas,” Camacho said. “I haven’t seen a set of kids that were more thankful and happy than those today. And having the opportunity to see them smile and run around with them was truly moving. I just wish we could do more for them.”
Camacho’s father came to the United States at age 11 and went on to play professional soccer for the Rochester Lancers in the North American Soccer League. He once played against Pele, the Brazilian soccer star generally regarded as the sports all-time greatest player, who played in the United States late in his career. Camacho learned the game as soon as he could “walk and talk and run around,” he said.
Camacho played in college, and then trained for a year with the St. Louis Steamers, but then decided to go into business. He still coaches and gives individual training sessions for soccer players.
With a 5-month-old son at home, the smiles on the children’s faces struck a chord with Camacho, he said.
“What moved me most was these kids were extremely happy, even though they live in the area they do,” Camacho said. “I saw kids 5 months to 5 years old, and the fact that they were so thankful and grinning and talking to us, it just couldn’t be a more incredible experience.”
This is the first time a JCOC has toured SouthCom. Though most previous trips have exposed participants to U.S. military might, this JCOC group is seeing more of the U.S. military’s humanitarian assistance and other aid-oriented missions, known as “soft power.”
Today’s stop included a briefing about Joint Task Force Bravo, which covers operations from Belize and Guatemala to Panama. It involves humanitarian assistance and disaster relief and counter-narcoterrorism, and provides an intermediate staging base and forward operating base in the region.
U.S. officials value the region because 40 percent of U.S. trade is with Latin America and Canada. Three of the four largest contributors to U.S. oil imports are countries in the Western Hemisphere, and 90 percent of all drugs entering the United States transit Central America, officials here said.
About half of Joint Task Force Bravo’s 1,200 personnel are U.S. servicemembers, and civilian contractors make up the other half.
Army forces in the region provide water purification and distribution, as well as initial disaster response and assessment teams. They deploy search-and-rescue and communications teams.
The Air Force bases 10 UH-60 Black Hawk utility helicopters in the region, along with four other Black Hawks for medical evacuation missions. They also operate four CH-47D Chinook helicopters used for cargo and passengers.
A medical team runs a mobile surgical unit, an operating and emergency room, a small hospital ward and offers ambulance, dental and pharmacy services. There is also a 24-hour fire-protection unit and a joint security unit.
The servicemembers at the base volunteer to support the local communities. About 800 children are supported by donations to five orphanages, and Bravo servicemembers so far have donated 700 backpacks and 35,000 pounds of school supplies in the region and 900 pairs of shoes to local orphanages.
Beyond the Horizon, a U.S. Army South-led multiservice exercise, links U.S. and Honduran engineers and medical personnel together for construction projects and missions to provide medical, dental and veterinary services for Hondurans. Plans are to renovate three schools and to build two new schools and four water towers in Honduran towns. In 2007, Joint Task Force Bravo provided $1.4 million worth of surgical services to local Hondurans.
JCOC participant Dr. Frank McGrew, vice president of Stern Cardiovascular Center in Germantown, Tenn., toured the mobile medical unit and talked with its staff.
“I’ve been very impressed with the people and the medical facilities,” he said. “And their ability to liaison with the local medical facilities, I think, is an excellent idea, not only to provide emergency specialist care for our troops, but also to help the local population.”
McGrew said he always has had an interest in foreign affairs and political science.
“I think we are in the business of building nations, one person at a time,” McGrew said. “Regardless of what you do on a military basis, you have to win the hearts and minds of the people, too. So much of the stability of a country and their relationship with the United States really depends on their personal perception of the United States.”
McGrew said nothing can build a closer relationship with a country like delivering medical care to the people, because there is an immediate manifestation of the benefit.
Installing adequate water and sewage systems still takes time to eradicate diseases, he noted, and education can take half a generation to yield results. Political stability also takes a while to demonstrate benefits, he added.
“But if you set a guy’s broken leg, the next day he knows what happened. He knows who did that. There’s no doubt about that,” McGrew said.
McGrew said he believes no agency is better suited to provide the logistical, medical and communications support for disaster and humanitarian relief than military operations such as Joint Task Force Bravo operating continuously in a region.
“They have to have an excellent relationship with the local people to do what they do, to get the kind of things they need done,” he said. “I can’t think of anything better than humanitarian missions to cement that relationship.
“Also, they’re here all the time,” he continued. “Aid missions come and go; they’re not designed to be here all the time. The military mission is here all the time. They have the capability of providing continuing influence.”
McGrew said he was impressed with the facilities and the staff of the medical team. But it is more than equipment and education that makes them stand out, he said.
“The facilities are good, the equipment is good, but the dedication and the quality of the service people at all levels … I think is just incomparable. It makes me feel really good about the future,” he said. “I was impressed with them at all levels, from the corpsmen to the chief of medicine."