Embassy Official: Beyond the Horizon Supports U.S. Outreach
By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service
PANAMA CITY, Panama, June 13, 2013 With tough budgetary choices ahead and the looming prospect of even deeper cuts, a senior official at the U.S. Embassy in Panama called the engagements being conducted during Beyond the Horizon 2013 a smart investment that promotes regional partnerships and by extension, regional security.
U.S. military and government officials credit engagements being conducted during Beyond the Horizon 2013 in Panama and El Salvador with promoting understanding, partnerships and, by extension, regional security. Here, Air Force Col. Mary Pelszynski, of the 59th Medical Wing’s 959th Medical Operations Squadron based at Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland, Texas, gives a patient a sticker after an examination at a clinic during Beyond the Horizon in Veraguas, Panama, April 16, 2013. U.S. Army photo by Spc. Danielle Hendrix
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
U.S. soldiers and airmen who deployed to Panama and El Salvador during the four-month exercise are building schools and clinics and providing medical care in some of the poorest, most remote stretches of the countries.
As they gain valuable deployment and operational experience, they are reaffirming U.S. commitment to the region and laying the foundation for closer future cooperation, Army Lt. Col. Hector Martinez, deputy chief of the security cooperation office at the U.S. Embassy in Panama, told American Forces Press Service.
“The reason Beyond the Horizon is so important to us is that it is nested with the intent of our ambassador, with the intent of the U.S. Southern Command commander, and with the intent of the force providers,” primarily U.S. Army South and U.S. Air Forces Southern, Martinez said.
“They all work in unison to support this mission,” he added.
Every construction project and medical readiness training exercise conducted over the course of the exercise is coordinated closely with the respective embassy team and host-nation government.
Martinez noted the benefits of marshaling specialized military capabilities along with other instruments of power to support U.S. engagement in the region. Military members bring skill sets that easily transfer to humanitarian missions, an ability to mobilize and deploy quickly to remote sites, and the ruggedness needed to work in challenging conditions, he said.
“This not about putting a military face on the event. This is about Americans helping Panamanians,” he emphasized. “The reason we use [Defense Department] elements is that we are used to doing these types of things. We know how to deploy quickly and get there. We have the resources.”
And particularly important as spending cuts affect the entire U.S. government, Martinez said, is that Beyond the Horizon is a very cost-effective operation. “With a relatively small amount of dollars, we can do so much for these communities,” He said.
About 3,000 soldiers and airmen participating in Beyond the Horizon -- about half serving rotations in Panama and the other half in El Salvador -- are building trust as they interact with local residents and host-nation security forces, he said.
“You can hear from them, and they love what they are doing,” Martinez said. “At the end of the day, they are building something. They are building something for a community that otherwise might be on the bottom of the priority list in getting those resources from the government of Panama. So if we can augment that with a bit of support from the United States, it is a win-win.”
Recognizing that partnerships can’t be built overnight, Martinez said the impact of Beyond the Horizon will last for generations. Schoolchildren who go to a shiny new schoolhouse or experience their first visit to a dentist will remember the American service members who made a difference in their lives.
“We are going in in a nonthreatening way, providing a service, and we are planting a seed. We are building blocks upon blocks upon blocks,” Martinez said. “At the end of the day, this was a fantastic opportunity for our service members to do something good.”
Army Brig. Gen. Orlando Salinas, deputy commander of U.S. Army South, said groundwork laid during Beyond the Horizon helps to set the stage for better responses in the event of a natural disaster or other crisis.
“By working together, our service members will gain valuable experiences from Panama’s civilian and security experts, ensuring that our forces are able to rapidly respond to support future emergency humanitarian and civil relief efforts,” he said during the opening ceremony in April. “This exercise will strengthen our relationships and our ability to work together to meet future needs.”
Southcom Commander Marine Corps Gen. John F. Kelly, speaking earlier this month at a ceremony commemorating the command’s 50th anniversary, called partnerships like those being fostered during Beyond the Horizon central to Southcom’s mission and the success of its operations.
“We get to engage with partners who want to make a positive difference in their own countries and abroad, who want to contribute to regional security, who want to partner with the United States,” he said.
“At Southcom, we don’t partner because it makes for a nice bumper sticker, and we don’t partner because it is a polite way to relinquish global leadership,” Kelly said. “We partner because trust, confidence and mutual understanding cannot be surged when a crisis hits. We partner because the nature of today’s security threats cannot be countered by a single nation or a single federal agency.
“At Southcom,” he concluded, “we partner because we know the only way we can secure a better way for the future for us is by securing a better future for everyone.”