Commander: ‘Beyond the Horizons’ to Have Far-reaching Impact
By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service
COBAN, Guatemala, June 29, 2012 Wrapping up a 90-day humanitarian and civic assistance mission here in Guatemala, the commander of U.S. Army South said the projects left behind represent hope and opportunity, and a closer partnership that will allow the United States and Guatemala to work together more effectively to address regional challenges.
Army Maj. Gen. Simeon G. Trombitas, commander of U.S. Army South, looks in on a Guatemalan girl receiving dental treatment during a dental readiness training exercise near Pocola, Guatemala, June 27, 2012. U.S. soldiers worked alongside partners from the armies of Canada, Colombia and Guatemala to provide medical services throughout the area as part of Beyond the Horizons 2012. U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Tamika Exom
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
Army Maj. Gen. Simeon G. Trombitas joined Guatemalan President Otto Perez Molina and Roberta Jacobson, U.S. assistant secretary of state for western hemispheric affairs, during closing ceremonies here yesterday for Beyond the Horizons 2012 that highlighted the contributions of the U.S. and Guatemalan forces and the deep bonds between their two nations.
During the mission, which kicked off in April and will conclude July 7, soldiers, sailors and airmen conducted engineering and medical missions in rural areas of central Guatemala. Working with their Guatemalan partners and medical personnel from Colombia and Canada, they built a school and two new medical clinics, renovated two other schools and a medical clinic, and provided medical and dental services to an estimated 25,000 patients and veterinary services to more than 10,000 animals.
The closing ceremony for a second Beyond the Horizon mission, in Honduras, took place June 27. That mission included construction of two new schools and clinics, one school renovation, and medical care for more than 18,500 patients and veterinary care for more than 7,000 animals.
Speaking with American Forces Press Service before yesterday’s closing ceremony at Guatemala’s U.N. peacekeeper training base, Trombitas made clear the region’s importance to the United States. “This is our southern flank. It is our back door,” he said.
He emphasized the significance of the Beyond the Horizons clinics and projects, all conducted in very poor areas of the country. “This is an open demonstration that the government cares about them, that our countries are working together to better their lives,” he said.
Strong regional governments and militaries are able to work effectively with the United States and other neighboring nations in the event of a natural disaster, he said.
U.S. Army South mobilized troops for the U.S. response to the 2010 earthquake in Haiti, where they worked hand-in-glove throughout the effort with a battalion of military police based at the U.N. peacekeeping school here, as well as the militaries of more than a dozen other regional nations, Trombitas noted.
In recent years, the United States also has worked with its regional partners during responses to floods and volcanoes in Guatemala, as well as earthquakes and storms in Haiti and elsewhere in the region.
“Our interoperability allows us to interact and be prepared to tackle these disasters and have a coherent, interoperable humanitarian response to anything that might happen in the region,” Trombitas said.
The ability to work together, he said, helps regional partners confront the threat of illegal trafficking through the region. “The narcotics threat is a very real threat,” Trombitas said, noting that 80 percent of the drugs that flow into the United States pass through Belize, Guatemala and Honduras.
“Anything we can do to bolster these governments in their fight against drugs helps us. So we work to strengthen the governments in Central and South America to help stop the flow of illegal persons, drugs and persons into our back door,” he said. “The more we can do to strengthen these governments and militaries here, the more we do to protect our southern flank.”
Every medical clinic and school built or renovated during Beyond the Horizons 2012 contributes to this effort by giving alternatives to poor residents in these regional countries, Trombitas said.
“Education gives an alternative to a 12-year-old who can either pack drugs on his back or learn how to read and write and have a better life,” he said. “So as we improve the government’s ability to give them better health, better learning, better opportunities, then we also help negate threats to our nation.”
Relationships strengthened through these efforts provide closer partnerships for dealing with other challenges. Trombitas noted the U.S. partnership forged with El Salvador, and how that country has reciprocated by sending troops to 11 rotations in Iraq and two in Afghanistan. “That is a byproduct of what we have done for their country,” he said.
Similarly, Colombia, which the United States has helped in its fight against drug traffickers and radical elements intent on overthrowing the government, has become a strong positive influence to other regional militaries, he said. Colombia now serves as a regional training base to help other nations in their own counterdrug efforts, training Mexican pilots and sending mobile training teams to El Salvador, Panama and Costa Rica.
These initiatives promote the kind of multinational cooperation, which Trombitas called vital to dealing with regional challenges that cross national borders.
“Any solution we come to has to be a regional solution, and we have to all work together to negate the problems that we have with these porous boundaries,” he said. “The more we work together, the more we … are able to negate the threat though coordination, through talking to each other and through stopping the flow of illicit drugs, people and arms, not only in one country, but in a regional approach where we are much more effective.
“And we can share that information between countries that assist us in stopping this illicit activity.”
As U.S. service members wrap up Beyond the Horizons 2012, Trombitas said they’ll take valuable training with them. Working here along with their Guatemalan, Colombian and Canadian military counterparts, they shared experience and ideas that will benefit future operations, he said.
The mission also gave U.S. troops training in working with different cultures and operating in austere conditions that require flexibility and innovation. Trombitas noted that simple things can become complex, as during medical readiness training exercises here that required translators to translate Mayan dialects that many of the local people speak into Spanish, then into English.
“Those are the kinds of things that we simply can’t replicate in training in the States,” he said, but that have a huge payoff in lessons learned.
“Small things like that make our soldiers more flexible and adaptable when it comes to larger problem sets,” he said. “And that is part of what we gain by working in this region as well.”
Trombitas said he’s proud of the soldiers, airmen and sailors who made Beyond the Horizons such a success. All the planned projects were completed ahead of schedule, a testament not only to their skill, but also their “desire to do good things,” he said. And when troops finished their assigned tasks, they came up with additional ones – building benches and playgrounds out of leftover materials and even reworking the water and sanitary systems at a medical clinic they built.
These projects, and the medical services delivered during Beyond the Horizons, he said, will leave a lasting legacy for Guatemalans who will remember the U.S. troops who provide them.
“And that impression of the United States will be that [U.S. forces] are here to help,” Trombitas said.
He emphasized the value of the relationships U.S. troops forged with their Guatemalan partners during the exercise.
“It’s demonstrative of the professionalism of our soldiers, sailors and airmen, and their ability to make friends wherever they go in a manner that strengthens our relationship with nations that they serve in,” he said.