Story by Maj. Carlos Cuebas
June 19, 2012
COBAN PROVINCE, Guatemala -- In a clear testament of the operational nature of the U.S. Army Reserve, engineers assigned to the 1st Mission Support Command are currently playing a critical role during the U.S. Southern Command Theater Security Cooperation known as Beyond the Horizon.
The Beyond the Horizon, or BTH, mission is designed to foster goodwill and improve relations between the United States and the government of Guatemala, while allowing U.S. military personnel and units to sharpen their occupational skills and practice deployment and redeployment operations to better prepare to respond to future challenges.
"The Army Reserve does not only mean going to war. It also means conducting humanitarian missions like this one," said Staff Sgt. Juan Cruz, a carpenter with over 20 years of experience in the Army Reserve-Puerto Rico.
The U.S. Army Reserve soldiers are currently building a new school at the Sarrax-Och village, located approximately 30 kilometers outside Coban city, in north-central Guatemala.
Sarrax-Och is a remote village with approximately 1,000 residents. The economy of the village is based on agriculture, mainly the production of coffee.
During their rotation, the Army Reserve soldiers from Puerto Rico are finishing the work that was started by three previous rotations of troops, who deployed to Guatemala from different commands in the Unites States.
"We are working in two schools, constructing a new building and renovating another one that was in very poor shape," said Chief Warrant Officer Two Miguel Velazquez, acting commander of the 471st Engineer Company, U.S. Army Reserve-Puerto Rico.
"We are in the final phases of the project, installing doors, painting and finishing up the details of the construction," said Sgt. 1st Class Samuel Rivera-Ramos, construction supervisor assigned to the 471st Engineer Company.
According to the school's director, Guillermina Arévalo, there are over 250 kids who will receive a better education thanks to the new facilities.
"What you are doing here is a blessing for all of us in the community," said Arévalo.
The Army Reserve troops have gone above and beyond the basic requirements for this mission. According to Velazquez, they have used excess construction material to improve other areas on the school.
"We are currently fixing the students seats and making new teachers desks. Also, we are leveling the backyard of the school, so the kids can play soccer," said Velazquez.
In addition to the school project, the soldiers are working in a maternity delivery room at the Carcha municipality.
"Our job here is to finish up a maternity delivery room, making an electrical connection for an sterilizer that they have not been able to use in years. We are also sealing and painting the facilities," said Sgt. 1st Class Victor Misla, construction supervisor with over 19 years of experience.
According to the Hospital's director, Dr. Barbara Fernandez, thanks to the job being done by the soldiers, the hospital will be able to double their capacity to receive expecting mothers.
"Now we will be able to better serve pregnant women and avoid maternity deaths in our municipality," said Fernandez.
According to the officials, the municipality of Carcha has the highest maternal mortality in Guatemala.
The soldiers used every opportunity to express their thoughts about the mission being conducted in Guatemala.
"We are making a small contribution to improve the quality of life of all Guatemalans. What we are doing will stay and the population will always remember us," said Misla.
"Since we are able to speak in Spanish with the local population, our job here goes beyond the construction of a building. We are really making a connection with the Guatemalan people," added Velazquez.