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NEWS | June 18, 2019

Army Reserve Engineers build schools for Guatemalan communities

By Sgt. Anshu Pandeya 372nd Mobile Public Affairs Detachment

U.S. Army Reserve Soldiers of the 424th and 760th Engineer Companies, 412th Theater Engineer Command are building schools in Guatemala as part of Beyond the Horizon 2019. Beyond the Horizon is a joint training exercise in which U.S. military forces specializing in construction, engineering, and health care train to improve operational readiness and strengthen relationships with ally forces while also providing tangible benefits to the Guatemalan people.

Soldiers of the Rutland, Vt.-based 424th are building a school, which they are calling Eucalypto, while the 760th of Marion, Va. constructs an add-on to Las Lagunas. They are two of four construction projects during Beyond the Horizon. Almost two dozen Soldiers are working on the Eucalypto schoolhouse, which, when completed, will have four classrooms, a kitchen, and latrine. The Las Lagunas site will feature the classrooms, as well as a four-stall latrine.  Expected completion dates for both sites are early to late July.

The projects have not been without their challenges though.

“Weather's a huge obstacle down here in Huehuetenango because we're kind of situated in a valley,” said 2nd Lt. Tyler Preast, the 760th officer in charge of Las Lagunas construction site. “Any weather report you'll read is going to be inaccurate so you have to be ready to adapt and overcome to whatever weather is thrown your way. There's a lot of times where we'll just sit and try to wait out the rain because can't lay block when it's raining.”

Spc. Jesse Koch, team leader for Las Lagunas work site concurred, “You can't lay block in the rain so we just kind of wait until it passes. Every day about the same time it'll rain so we kind of have a plan in preparation when it comes. We throw our tarps over our work, and once it's done, resume working."

 “Sometimes you have to flex your schedule," said Preast. "Aside from that, heat is really hard, elevation's hard. We've had a lot of problems with dehydration so it's tough on the Soldiers to come out and do the extreme physical labor in these conditions.”  The medics come out and pretty much every hour on the hour, force feed water, make them drink at least a cup. Team leads for each work group also make sure  every hour on the hour teams are taking about five to 10 minute breaks, which really helps mitigate that hardship.”

Besides the weather and 12-hour working days, another obstacle the Soldiers have faced is personnel working in jobs in which they are not trained for. During this second rotation of engineers, Soldiers have been laying blocks. Plumbers and electricians will not be using those skills until later in the construction. But some might see as an impediment, Koch sees as an opportunity to mentor.

“I think out of our rotation of 17, we had four soldiers that are actually qualified for this line of work so the ability to teach and train everyone else and get them up to speed, that was a huge opportunity,” Koch said. “Plumbers, electricians, we have a lot of maintenance as well. So that's actually a good thing though that we brought them. A couple of times our mixers broke down so they were able to jump in there and get them fixed.”

Despite the tough conditions, Soldiers know not only will they learn from their training, but what they're building will benefit the local Huehuetenango communities.
Durational officer in charge of both construction sites 1st Lt. Oscar Mendoza of the 277th Engineer Company out of San Antonio said, “I've learned quite a bit here, and this is also rewarding because not only do we get to train and the soldiers learn, but the product that we're producing is something that's going to benefit the local communities, and they're aware of this, and they're very grateful for this as well.”

Pvt. Brian Jones, a 424th carpentry masonry specialist agreed, “They're all really friendly people, especially the children that come by. They're very interested to see what we're doing, and sometimes we hand out snacks and stuff with bottles of water for them. It's pretty nice.”

“It's the first time for a lot of these Soldiers serving the country outside of the contiguous U.S. states,” said Preast. T"he mission is understood about cooperation and dedication to partnership with Guatemala. Also, the kids are still in session here, so we see them every day. They come and interact with us. For all we know the next president of Guatemala is going to come out of this school that we're building. It's really rewarding to see that, when the school is done, it's going to be a finished product which these kids can use immediately. That's great.”