News: MPAD soldiers provide support to BTH-Panama
Story by Maj. John Parks
COLON, Panama - Normally the personnel behind the cameras are responsible for telling other soldiers’ stories, and members of the Tennessee Army National Guard’s 118th Mobile Public Affairs Detachment are providing public affairs support to U.S. Army South’s Beyond the Horizon-Panama 2013.
BTH Panama is a humanitarian and civic assistance exercise sponsored by U.S. Southern Command and led by U.S. Army South. U.S. military engineers and medical professionals travel to Panama for training and humanitarian services.
The 118th has three soldiers assigned as durational staff for the exercise and will remain in Panama for more than three months. During this time, the duration public affairs officer Capt. Sarah Harris, will supervise all public affairs operations.
“I feel honored to have this opportunity to use the skills I learned in the Defense Information School Public Affairs course in a real-world scenario,” said Harris.
In addition to the duration staff personnel, Harris will also supervise public affairs soldiers from other units across the country. These units provide two soldiers each for a two-week rotation with six rotations total. These soldiers are responsible for distributing pictures, videos and news releases and stories to the proper audiences.
Most of the public affairs soldiers are enlisted and have many years of experience in their field.
“One of the best training opportunities for me personally has been learning from the enlisted public affairs personnel,” said Harris “This is the first time I have used the camera equipment, and it’s an eye-opening experience to learn how difficult their jobs can be.”
Sgt. 1st Class Walter van Ochten, 118th public affairs senior
noncommissioned officer, is also part of the durational staff.
“This is a great opportunity for us to continue to hone our public affairs skills,” said van Ochten.
Van Ochten was also on the duration staff during BTH Honduras 2012.
“The amazing thing about the two exercises is the consistency between them,” said van Ochten. “We were able to use what we learned in Honduras from day one in Panama without having to start all over again.”
Sgt. Matthew Hemmer was with van Ochten in Honduras and has returned for BTH Panama. Hemmer is a broadcast journalist and is primarily responsible for taking videos as opposed to still pictures.
“This is a unique opportunity for me as a media student to come down here and practice my profession,” said Hemmer.
The soldiers of the 118th MPAD participated in multiple overseas deployments recently, and everywhere they go, they continue the 118th tradition of excellence in their field of public affairs.
In the past two years, unit members have deployed to Japan, Germany, Honduras, Guatemala and now Panama.