1140th going to Guatemala for annual training

Sunday, January 14, 2007

About 70 soldiers in the 1140th Engineer Battalion based in Cape Girardeau and Perryville are preparing to go overseas again.

This time they won't be entering a combat zone. They'll help build medical clinics, schools, roads and dig wells in Guatemala for their annual two-week training.

"It's our sustainment training," said Capt. Scott Ratcliff, the 1140th's battalion administration officer. "It's the stuff that we do to make sure our skills are honed and make sure our soldiers are trained to accomplish their mission."

He said the training will be much different than the mission the unit carried out when it was deployed to Iraq in 2004.

Soldiers attached to the 1140th Engineer Battalion are based throughout Missouri -- the 1438th Engineer Company in Macon and Kirksville; the 220th Engineer Company in Festus; the 880th Engineer Team in Perryville and the 1138th Engineer Company in Farmington.

A large number of the Missouri National Guard's forces -- about 1,700 of them -- will participate in the exercises starting in early February, said Capt. Tamara Spicer, a public information officer for the Guard in Jefferson City. Guard soldiers will work in shifts through early May and be based in San Marcos, Guatemala, Spicer said.

Other types of Missouri National Guard units -- like military police and public affairs units -- will also make the trip to Guatemala.

The soldiers will travel directly from their armories in Missouri to Guatemala, skipping the buildup and training at military bases that preceded the Guard's past overseas combat deployment, Spicer said.

"This is not a combat mission. It's actually a construction mission," Spicer said. "This is neat for the engineers. They're helping a country and improving their engineering skills at the same time."

Local soldiers will be rotated in and out sometime between March and May, Ratcliffe said.

The past few years have been busy for the 1140th. Many 1140th soldiers were deployed to Iraq in 2004, with some of them deployed later in 2005. Those who weren't deployed in that second round helped with Hurricane Katrina cleanup efforts in and assisted with cleanup following summer storms last year in St. Louis.

This two-week training will be different than any of those missions, Ratcliff said. In Guatemala, the soldiers will come in close contact with a foreign culture while performing a humanitarian mission, he said.

"It's great training due to the fact it not only gives soldiers an opportunity to hone their skills, but it also gives soldiers the opportunity to interact with a population that's not English-speaking and get the experience of dealing with different cultures," Ratcliff said.

Soldiers will also the get the satisfaction of seeing their action benefit people in need, he said.

"When you go over there, you go to a project site, and there's already an existing school in place that's about to fall in ... when you see how it really affects the civilian population at that level, it definitely gives you a sense of self-service and pride," Ratcliff said.

msanders@semissourian.com

335-6611, extension 182

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