Beyond the Horizon Provides Valuable Deployment, Mission Training
By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service
SONSONATE, El Salvador, June 6, 2013 When 1,400 members of Joint Task Force Jaguar prepared for a four-month mission here as part of Beyond the Horizon 2013, they went through many of the same procedures they’d follow for missions ranging from a wartime deployment to a disaster response in the homeland.
Army Spc. Adam Thomas, a member of the Maine Army National Guard’s 136th Engineering Company, builds a school during Beyond the Horizon at El Castano, El Salvador, May 19, 2013. The U.S. Southern Command-sponsored joint and combined field training humanitarian exercise provides engineering, construction and health care services to communities as well as valuable deployment training for participants. U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Brandon Bolick
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
The task force, led by the New Hampshire Army National Guard, includes National Guard, reserve and active-duty soldiers and airmen from across the United States as well as from El Salvador, Colombia, Chile and Canada, explained Army Lt. Col. Raymond Valas, the task force commander.
Getting them here to support the mission -- whether as the duration force for the exercise’s entirety or for two- to four-week rotations -- required intensive planning and coordination.
“We do everything for this deployment that we do to deploy anywhere in the world,” Valas said. “We exercise all of those systems,” moving equipment and personnel by rail, road, sea and air, as well as providing the logistical support functions throughout the mission, he said.
“We bring them all together, and in the end, we have a remarkable training experience,” Valas added.
For participants, working together in austere conditions to build schools and deliver medical, dental and veterinary care presents many of the difficulties they would encounter in any overseas deployment.
“We have challenges here that you wouldn’t face if you were doing this training back at home station in the States,” Valas said. “We are dealing with language barriers, with different construction materials, with tight timelines, with a different environment and climate than we are used to -- and still performing the mission.”
Army 1st Lt. Michelle Lachat, a Wisconsin National Guard soldier serving as officer in charge of the school construction project in El Taramindo, said the crews are getting experience not easily replicated in the United States.
There, they typically do small-scale projects in local parks and recreation areas. But here during Beyond the Horizon, they’re building classrooms and latrine facilities from the ground up, doing everything from building foundations and walls to running electrical wires and plumbing.
“For us, being here is pretty exciting, because we don’t get to apply our skills in an environment like this all the time,” Lachat said. “But these are the skills we would use when setting up our [forward operating bases] overseas, so this is valuable training for everyone.”
For some of the participants, like Wisconsin Army Guardsman Spc. Amanda Short, Beyond the Horizon was their first deployment since completing basic training.
For others, like Army Pfc. Megan Klister, an active-duty soldier from the 56th Signal Battalion in San Antonio, it offered the first opportunity to set up operations as they would in a deployed environment.
“This is a great experience, getting to do all this in this kind of environment,” Klister said as she set up communications equipment at the Rancho San Marcos school construction site. “I would so this all again in a heartbeat.”
“This has been a learning experience for everybody,” as they tackle projects in a demanding climate with time schedules to meet and language barriers to overcome, said Army Sgt. Anthony Rorick, project manager at the Las Marias site. “But it’s been rewarding, being able to bring it all together to support such a worthwhile effort.”
Beyond the Horizon serves as “a great lesson for all of our soldiers,” Valas said.
“They take away from it that no matter what environment we might get put in, we get the mission done,” he added. “We take what materials or tools we have and we find a way to make it work, on time.
“And in the end,” he continued, “with all the training and all the experience that they will gain in doing that, they are going to leave behind a lasting benefit for the people in the communities where they are working.”
As they do so, Valas said, the troops are fine-tuning many of the capabilities they would apply if called on to support their own neighbors during a homeland disaster.
“Being able to work out in the community, coordinate with mayors, schoolteachers, school directors, community leaders -- that is exactly what we do in the National Guard in the case of natural disasters,” he said. “And we are training for that in a very real environment.”
Participating in Beyond the Horizon is a heady experience, Valas said.
“To have this experience, where we are all working to to make something like that happen -- you go home and say, ‘We pulled it off,’” he said. “We brought people together from five countries, from across two continents, and we formed one task force and we did a tough mission and we got it done. That is just something you never forget.”