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Guardsmen to build schools and clinics in Honduras
CAPE GIRARDEAU, Mo. -- Missouri National Guardsmen from the 1140th Engineer Battalion are set to deploy to Naco Cortes, Honduras, to conduct real-world missions that will develop Soldiers' skills.
Known as Beyond the Horizon - Honduras 2012, the mission, led by Task Force commander, Lt. Col. Robert Jones, will construct and renovate two clinics and three schools from April to July 2012.
"This is a great opportunity for the battalion and our Soldiers," said Jones, of Cape Girardeau. "Our mission in Honduras will develop and enhance our Soldiers individual military occupational skills and increase their readiness for in-state and overseas missions."
The real-world situations will give Soldiers an opportunity to experience a different culture and country and employ their specific military skills as engineers, surveyors, heavy equipment operators and mechanics, said Jones.
Approximately 250 Guardsmen from five of the battalion's units in Cape Girardeau, Festus, Perryville and Macon will rotate in every two weeks to perform their jobs.
The Missouri Guard's 35th Engineer Brigade, of Fort Leonard Wood, is set for a similar mission this summer in Guatemala.
The partnership between the Missouri Guard engineers and countries in Central America isn't new.
"Back in the 80s and 90s, the Missouri Engineer Brigade was heavily involved in Central America," said Lt. Col. John Findley, Task Force commander of the Guatemala mission. "We got away from that. Brig. Gen. Randy Alewel, commander of the 35th Engineer Brigade, said his goal is to build up our relationships and partnerships that we had in that area."
Both missions to Honduras and Guatemala are the result of the Missouri Guard's working relationship with United States Army South.
"We have a contingency support brigade relationship with United States Army South, which basically means we are involved in all exercises Army South does and the two Beyond the Horizon missions this year are part of that," said Findley, of Eldon, Mo. "We are further developing our relationship with Army South and the people of Honduras."
The last time the 1140th sent Soldiers to Guatemala was in 2007.
Since September 2011, Jones and his task force have been coordinating and planning with Army South.
"A mission like this needs our attention from the very beginning so we can offer our views and experiences as Guardsmen," said Jones. "We participated in an initial site survey, something we haven't done before, and since then we've been involved in every detail and planning phases."
The task force has also been coordinating the Missouri National Guard's operations with and between government and non-government organizations including: 14 other state National Guard participants; the U.S. Army, Army Reserve, Navy and Air Force, the Honduran army, air force, police, and Ministries of Education, Defense and Health; Canadian and Columbian Medical Providers; and humanitarian groups such as Children's International, the Honduran Red Cross Society, and the Rotary Club.
Working with so many groups really shows that the Missouri National Guard is well suited to work in a joint military environment, said Jones. "Over the past several months we've built a very strong and diverse team. That's so important to the success of any mission."
Maj. Adam Reichart, operations and executive officer for the Guatemala missions, said allowing Missouri to run both Beyond the Horizon missions displays Army South's confidence in the Missouri Guard.
"That shows the flexibility of the Missouri Guard, that we're running two big exercises by providing command and control and a number of supporting units to this simultaneously," said Reichart, of Smithville. "This shows that Big Army realizes that Missouri can do it and it's great for our Soldiers."
Jones and his task force have made three trips to Honduras to recon the sites and start building relationships with Honduran officials.
Soldiers of the 1140th will construct two new schools and two new health clinics, and renovate one school in five sites, said Jones.
The Honduras projects are expected to be completed by early July.
His task force will also work with the Army and Air Force on three Medical and Dental Readiness Training Exercises, where a projected 14,00 citizens of Honduras will receive free health and dental care, said Jones.
The task force has also focused on preparing our Guardsmen physically and mentally for the upcoming missions, said Jones.
The majority of the training Guardsmen were required to complete before going to Honduras was through online courses.
About 70 Guardsmen have been in Honduras for two weeks as part of the advance party and have been prepping for the arrival of the first rotation of Soldiers.
"As another part of our mission they've been improving and building on a Honduran military location that we will use as our forward operating base," said Jones. "When we're done in July the base will be fully operational for the Honduran army."
Jones said this has been one of the most rewarding and challenging experiences of his military career.
"We've done a lot of planning and coordinating to make sure not only our missions are successful but our Soldiers individually are successful," said Jones. "I want the Honduran army and people to be proud of the work we've done for them and improve their quality of life. I want the Soldiers to be proud of what they've accomplished."
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