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BTH 2011 looks to aid Salvadoran schools, train soldiers

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AGUA AGRIA, El Salvador—Sgt. Anthony McElroy, 212th Engineering Company , Tennessee National Guard, shows a Salvadoran soldier how to use a compactor during  construction of a schoolhouse during Beyond the Horizon 2011. AGUA AGRIA, El Salvador—Sgt. Anthony McElroy, 212th Engineering Company , Tennessee National Guard, shows a Salvadoran soldier how to use a compactor during construction of a schoolhouse during Beyond the Horizon 2011.

El Salvador – Beyond the Horizon 2011, an annual U.S. Army South-led exercise focused on improving the readiness of U.S. military forces and maintaining relations with Central and South American countries, held its opening ceremony March 29 in Caminos, El Salvador.

The 4-month-long, joint services effort will act as a civic assistance and U.S. military training exercise.

ARSOUTH’s mission during the exercise is to provide assistance to the execution of construction projects, humanitarian and civic efforts, and medical and dental readiness exercises.

U.S. Soldiers, Sailors, Marines and Airmen, along with Salvadoran soldiers, will construct and renovate schools at six sites near San Vicente, El Salvador. Medical and dental units will also have the capacity to treat up to 600 patients a day during the clinical rotations.

“This is very important for the people of San Vicente,” said Col. Orlando Montano, commander of the 5th Salvadoran Infantry Brigade whose soldiers are supporting the exercise. “About 80 percent of homes in this area were damaged by Hurricane Ida. The landslides that came after the hurricane were devastating. We picked these schools because of their location to the damage.”

Hurricane Ida hit El Salvador in 2009 leaving the Central American nation, about the size of Massachusetts, devastated by massive hurricane-induced landslides. The most affected region was near San Vicente.

The 130th Maneuver Enhancement Brigade, from North Carolina, will provide command and control for rotational units during Beyond the Horizon 2011 in order to repair much of the damages from the landslides. The exercise is composed of eight 2-week rotations so service members can fulfill annual training obligations.

“It is so important for our soldiers to get hands-on experience in the field, and have the ability to work toward such an important cause at the same time,” said Col. Timothy Houser, 130th MEB and Beyond the Horizon 2011 commander.

In 2010, Beyond the Horizon focused on medical and dental support for citizens affected by the landslides. In 2011, the exercise will again provide medical and dental aid, but it will also focus on the construction of schools. 

While the exercise is in its infancy, the 130th began its planning last year. Soldiers from the brigade arrived in El Salvador in February and initially lived at the Salvadoran Army’s 5th Brigade Headquarters as Soldiers constructed Camp Poligono, the forward operating base for the exercise.

Navy Seabees, headquartered in Louisiana, and other National Guard units, also helped.

“I really like the idea of the inter-branch relationship,” said Lt. j.g. Hank Wallis, the Navy Seabee commander for the exercise. “It’s good to get out here and work together. I also appreciate the Salvadoran’s help. They have a lot to teach us and we have a lot to teach them.”

Wallis and Houser emphasized how Salvadoran and U.S. service members can both benefit from the exercise.

 “It gives us real world training opportunities, and that’s what is important,” Houser said. “And we also get to help build schools for people who need it.”