Soldier saved man during Guatemala mission

Sunday, July 1, 2007
2nd Lt. Paul Leoni, left, looked for signs of fellow soldiers over San Marcos, Guatemala, during a mock abduction rescue scenario. The training was part of Operation New Horizon, a humanitarian mission. (Submitted photo)

The training exercises 2nd Lt. Paul Leoni completed while deployed to Guatemala this spring were simulations. But Leoni had a real impact on the life of one Guatemalan while stationed at Camp Gaylord in San Marcos.

A young resident of San Marcos who had stopped breathing was brought to the gates of the camp April 8, according to a National Guard news release.

Leoni, a graduate of Jackson High School who now lives in St. Louis, and fellow officers helped perform CPR on the man. Once the man started breathing on his own, he was transported to the National Hospital of San Marcos.

The man was discharged later that day, according to the news release.

Leoni said the experience was one small part of a mission he called "a complete success." He has been recommended for an award recognizing his actions, according to the news release.

Leoni was deployed with his unit, the 1137th Military Police Company, based in Jackson, from February to May as part of the National Guard's annual Joint Task Force New Horizons humanitarian mission. He was assigned to guard the engineers and medics.

The mission built two medical clinics and two schools, and provided free medical care and readiness training in San Marcos, according to National Guard spokeswoman Capt. Marie Orlando. The mission also operated in El Salvador, Honduras and the Dominican Republic.

Leoni said the Guatemalan people benefited greatly from the operation.

"They received us very openly and gratefully," Leoni said. "They were very appreciative of all we did and tried to give back to us with food and other things while we were there."

Leoni said another highlight of the mission was a mock abduction exercise during which members of the mission were taken hostage and air and ground forces had to communicate while attempting to locate them.

Leoni flew overhead in a helicopter as ground forces signaled them toward the location of the abduction.

"The MPs and the aviators worked really well together," Leoni said. "We were talking nonstop, back and forth, air to ground."

Leoni said his unit is not slated yet for deployment to Iraq or Afghanistan, but that it is likely in the future.

"There were definitely a lot of experiences that would come in handy if I get deployed," Leoni said. "There's a little more violence there, but it will be useful."

Leoni said he welcomes the opportunity to serve overseas.

Sen. Kit Bond, R-Mo., recently criticized the National Guard's lack of readiness for domestic emergencies due to overseas deployment.

Orlando said the Iraq war had no impact on equipment for the New Horizons mission.

"This kind of exercise is training for a larger deployment," Orlando said. "We have the equipment we need, and we drop it off on the ground for all the units to use."

Orlando said 1,600 soldiers participated in the New Horizons mission, which was funded with $13 million in Department of Defense funds. Orlando said no state funds were used for the mission.

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