Exercise New Horizons 2004 Kicks Off in Guatemala
By Sgt. Nick Minecci, USA
Special to American Forces Press Service
JUTIAPA, Guatemala, March 29, 2004 Exercise New Horizons 2004 kicked off here March 27 during a ceremony attended by Guatemalan President Oscar Berger, U.S. Ambassador to Guatemala John Hamilton and other Guatemalan and U.S. dignitaries.
Guatemalan President Oscar Berger is greeted at the 312th Field Hospital by Army Spc. Beatriz Cruz, 818th Maintenance Company (Direct Support), 326th Maintenance Battalion, 300th Area Support Group, 99th Regional Readiness Command, during his March 27 visit to Base Camp Quetzal. Cruz, a native of Guatemala, acted as a tour guide for Berger, who was at the base camp for the opening ceremony of Exercise New Horizons 2004. Photo by Sgt. Nick Minecci, USA
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
New Horizons 2004 is a joint and combined exercise in other words, one involving more than one U.S. service and forces from at least one other nation -- sponsored by the U.S. Southern Command, working with the Guatemalan government. It's designed to perform humanitarian and civic assistance projects and to exercise related construction and medical readiness operations, officials said.
The U.S. service members deployed here as part of Joint Task Force Quetzal are working side by side with soldiers from Guatemala to build schools and hospitals and to dig wells to provide fresh drinking water for the local population. As he addressed the gathered military and civilian guests, Berger thanked the assembled Guatemalan soldiers and U.S. soldiers, airmen and sailors.
"I'd like to thank the U.S. military and the U.S. authorities for the effort they are (expending) to produce a better infrastructure for our beloved Jutiapa and its people," he said. "Today, a process begins in which not only military information will be shared, but also the human side of the U.S. and Guatemalan military."
Reflecting on the rebuilding of Guatemala following years of internal strife, Berger said the efforts of both militaries are for a greater good.
"The tasks that will be done will be of great benefit for the Jutiapan people," he said. "But more than anything, this is a symbol of the union and friendship we have, and a symbol that militaries can collaborate with one another when the principal interests are for the people, of freedom and democracy," he said.
Hamilton echoed the president's words, and said the timing of New Horizons, as the Guatemalan military undergoes a massive transformation, is a positive for all those involved.
The service members of Task Force Quetzal have been building a base camp for several weeks, and they will move into the surrounding area this week to begin the civil construction jobs.
"I already know that my troops are going to provide the people of Jutiapa with superb structures," said Col. Tim Welch, commander of Task Force Quetzal. "It is truly an honor and a pleasure to command a group like this, and to be able to help our friends and allies here, to help bring a better future for the people of the state of Jutiapa."
Welch said that while most of the task force comprises Army Reserve soldiers, it also includes the active Army, Navy and Marines, and the Air Force Reserve.
Taking a barren landscape with no infrastructure and building what amounts to a mini-city is the job of a group of Air Force reservists here, and one they say they love doing.
As part of Joint Task Force Quetzal, the reservists, from the 514th Civil Engineer Squadron, 514th Air Mobility Wing, at McGuire Air Force Base, N.J., have been building base camp structures, including two dining facilities, a morale, welfare and recreation tent, a bath facility and several light towers, digging trenches to cover electrical wire and water pipes and throwing in a hand to assist in any mission they can.
"We are building all this to increase the living conditions for the other rotations when they arrive, so they have someplace relatively nice to stay," said Tech. Sgt. Emmanuel DeSoto, a resident of New York City.
Master Sgt. Blaine Aird, the superintendent of the unit's structures group, said the construction of the base camp was the kind of mission the airmen love to do. "As long as you point us in the right direction, we can build it," he said.
The heat, high winds and dust are not a problem for his team, according to Aird. "We went to Oman and Afghanistan too for operations, and the weather here isn't so bad. It's a dry heat, but it feels cooler because of the wind," said the Bronx native.
The constant work is something Senior Airman Lamont Ford of the operations section said he and the other members of the unit enjoy. "This is my first major deployment, and it's exactly what I expected from what they told me about," the North Brunswick, N.J., native said. "These guys all know what they are doing, and they are great at teaching (younger troops) what they are doing and giving us hands-on experience as well," he said.
The sharing of experience is not limited to their fellow airmen, according to Ford. He said working alongside the Guatemalan soldiers has been an experience to remember.
"Even though we have the language barrier, it's not a problem. These guys are so hard-working, and they are so dedicated and go all out," he said.
Staff Sgt. Mark Wright, a native of Willingboro, N.J., agreed with Ford. "It's a pleasure working with the Guatemalans," he said. "They are always here and real eager to help. We use a lot of hand signals to communicate, but we are all getting the job done."
When follow-on rotations arrive here, Aird said the mission of getting into the Jutiapa area and helping the Guatemalans is something positive for people to share. "We are helping the local population make their lives easier; that's a great thing," he said.
(Army Sgt. Nick Minecci is assigned to the 214th Mobile Public Affairs Detachment.)