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South-of-the-border mission builds skills, partnership

Jun. 25, 2013 - 11:54AM   |  
Beyond the Horizon - Panama 2013
U.S. soldiers attach a vehicle to a UH-60L Black Hawk during sling-load training in Colon, Panama. The soldiers were supporting Beyond the Horizon 2013. (Army)
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The Army must grow partnerships with its allies in Central and South America as the service transitions out of Afghanistan and aligns forces with geographic combatant commands around the world, the outgoing commander of U.S. Army South said.

The Army must grow partnerships with its allies in Central and South America as the service transitions out of Afghanistan and aligns forces with geographic combatant commands around the world, the outgoing commander of U.S. Army South said.

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The Army must grow partnerships with its allies in Central and South America as the service transitions out of Afghanistan and aligns forces with geographic combatant commands around the world, the outgoing commander of U.S. Army South said.

“Anything you do in this region is done through partnerships,” said Maj. Gen. Frederick Rudesheim, who was to relinquish command during a ceremony June 24. “If you cannot do it, you’re irrelevant.”

Rudesheim, who has led Army South since September, is set to become vice director of the Joint Staff at the Pentagon. Maj. Gen. Joseph P. DiSalvo, most recently chief of staff at U.S. Southern Command, will succeed Rudesheim.

During his tenure at Army South, Rudesheim changed the command’s motto to “Juntos Podemos!” or “Together We Can!” to emphasize the “primacy of partnerships.”

Working with partner armies, whether in small teams in military-to-military engagements or large-scale exercises, is central to Army South’s role in the region, Rudesheim said.

One example, he said, is Beyond the Horizon, an exercise wrapping up in El Salvador and Panama.

Beyond the Horizon is a humanitarian and civic assistance mission that deploys U.S. military engineers and medical personnel often to rural parts of the host nation.

Each exercise lasts three to four months, with troops rotating in for two or three weeks at a time.

Most of the troops are National Guard and Army Reserve troops on their two-week annual training.

About 1,400 American soldiers and airmen participated in the exercise in El Salvador, said Lt. Col. Raymond Valas, a New Hampshire National Guard soldier who served as the joint task force commander.

Troops from Chile, Colombia, Canada and El Salvador also participated, Valas said.

The task force, JTF-Jaguar, has been on the ground since March, and the troops have built three new schools, four new latrine buildings and a kitchen, he said.

They conducted two medical campaigns and one dental campaign, treating more than 10,000 local residents, Valas said.

The task force’s veterinarians treated more than 3,000 animals, he said.

'Amazing' missions

The impact of these projects has been “amazing,” Valas said.

In Las Marias, kids had to walk for 45 minutes to an hour, across a highway, to get to the nearest school. Shortly before the task force arrived in El Salvador, a young girl from Las Marias was killed when she was struck by a car on her way to school, Valas said.

JTF-Jaguar built a school, a latrine building and a kitchen there, he said.

“When you’re able to build a school in a community like that, the impact, that school, will be there for decades,” Valas said. “That might be the difference of a little kid staying in school or not, or being able to get to and from school safely.”

During one of the medical clinics, Valas said, a teenage boy came up to the doctors and “you could see his heart beat through his chest.”

“He had a condition where his heart could literally explode if he exerted too much,” Valas said.

The doctors were able to diagnose and treat the boy, and they also gave him a six-year supply of medicine, he said.

“That’s just one story of someone who was given a six-year lease on life,” Valas said.

Beyond the Horizon also gives the Americans a chance to participate in a “complex logistical exercise,” Valas said.

“Everything we do for a mobilization anywhere in the world, we do for BTH,” he said.

This includes moving equipment by rail and sealift, he said. It also involves moving participating troops from Guard and Reserve units across the country.

“We had almost 20 states participating,” he said. “We truly came across the entire United States and came together here in El Salvador to get the mission done.”

JTF-Jaguar had its headquarters on a Salvadoran military base in Sonsonate.

“We lived right with the Salvadorans, shared the mess hall, worked together, ate together, lived together for the past three months,” Valas said. “It’s been fantastic, a great interaction opportunity for our troops. This is a training event you cannot replicate in the United States.”

Valas also picked up some Spanish during his time there.

His counterpart, El Salvadoran Army Col. Samuel Ruiz, joked that Valas is getting “dangerous” with his Spanish.

“The first time we spoke by phone is when I said, ‘We need a goal. I’m teaching you Spanish,’ ” Ruiz said. “Now he can hold more than half an hour conversation in Spanish.”

Beyond the Horizon projects hold “great value” for people who live in these communities, Ruiz said.

“The places that we were working, those places are very far away from everything, and they have a lot of big problems,” he said.

For example, they are prone to flooding during the rainy season, Ruiz said. The new schools will serve as shelters for the local population when such disasters occur.

“We cannot put a value on what this has done for the communities in El Salvador,” Ruiz said.

Valas agreed.

“We’re leaving a lasting benefit for the people of El Salvador,” he said. “It’s probably been the most rewarding thing I’ve done in the military.”

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