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Beyond the Horizon 2nd Lt. Ian Shay

Colombian soldier Eduar Bicongz Gualtenus-Valene, Colombian army engineers, scrapes away cement in order to clear room for large metal bracings that will support the bathhouse roof during Beyond the Horizon at Las Marias, El Salvador, May 14, 2013. BTH is a Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff-directed, U.S. Southern Command-sponsored joint and combined field training humanitarian exercise in which troops specializing in engineering, construction and health care provide much-needed services to communities in need while receiving valuable deployment training and building important relationships with partner nations. (U.S. Army photo by Staff Sgt. Ian Shay/Released)

LAS MARIAS, El Salvador –Professional Soldier Tomas Vargas-Vidal, Unit 17, Colombian Army, and the rest of his five-person team were handpicked earlier this year to represent their country during Beyond the Horizons-El Salvador 2013.

“I’m very excited to have been selected to participate and represent the Colombian Army here in El Salvador to help the local children,” said Vargas-Vidal.

It’s his first time interacting with U.S. partners.

“This is a very wonderful experience. Not only do we get an opportunity [to] provide aid, but we also get an opportunity to learn new engineering skills from the U.S., so we can go back to our country and apply those skills to our own practices,” said Vargas-Vidal.

The climate proves no challenge for the Colombian engineers as they face a more daunting landscape back home.

“In Colombia, we work in communities that are very remote with a very aggressive landscape,” said Vargas-Vidal. “It’s important to realize that Colombia is a country surrounded by the Andes Mountains, and the region of Cordillera. This is very tough terrain and our expertise comes in [handy]dealing with this landscape,”

Vargas-Vidal has spent the past four weeks at Las Marias helping build the schoolhouse, bathrooms and a newly started kitchen project. He describes what the projects mean for the area.

“We heard that the children here had to walk great distances to get to school, but in this community this is a new project,” said Vargas-Vidal. “In other areas there’s already been schools and amenities built. Most importantly, the objective is to show the children of this community that their struggle to travel to and from school was not for nothing. We want to make their educational journey an easier one by providing [newly constructed classrooms] somewhere they can focus on their love of learning.”

Vargas-Vidal recounted a visit earlier in the exercise about a young girl who visited Las Marias and found out the school was being built for her.

“The young girl broke down in tears, and everyone on the site was very moved. Those tears of joy symbolized the hard work and sweat of the many people involved. That day will be on the top of my mind the day the project is complete,” said Tomas.

With three different nations working on the Las Marias project, Vargas-Vidal explained what Colombia brings to the partnership. “Our Strength in spirit, our joy in helping others, our expertise in operating this equipment and navigating this type of site.” (This is a sentence fragment. Consider re-wording.

He also sees the benefits of working side-by-side with the U.S. engineers.

“Colombia is actively learning from the U.S. Army’s organizational skills. The U.S. Army displays great responsibility and quick decision-making,” said Vargas-Vidal.

The experience of working in a joint exercise is something Vargas-Vidal says he will not forget anytime soon.

“I would like to thank the U.S. for this opportunity, the opportunity to work and learn with you, and we hope that the U.S. Army engineers have benefitted from our contribution to this exercise. I think we made a great team together. Thank you,” said Vargas-Vidal.

(Editor’s Note; The exact rank of Vargas-Vidal is Soldado Profesional, one rank above Soldado, or equal to Private E2 in the US Army)


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This work, Building the future, by 2LT Ian Shay, identified by DVIDS, is free of known copyright restrictions under U.S. copyright law.

Date Taken:05.20.2013

Date Posted:05.20.2013 14:05



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