ZACAPA, Guatemala – Laughter rang out from the group of soldiers as they donned white hard hats. The bright Central American sun was already beating down relentlessly. The assembly had just arrived to their new work site for the next two weeks after a two-hour ride through communities and back roads of Guatemala. Before each workday begins, every soldier on the site circles around to hear a safety briefing and the tasks needing to be completed. And everyday, as this safety briefing draws to an end, the head of the group discloses a “joke of the day.”
Sgt. 1st Class John Snider is the project site noncommissioned officer in charge of the Las Carretas site of the Beyond the Horizons 2014 - Guatemala, and a soldier from the 35th Engineer Brigade of Missouri. He has been here from day one, helping each rotation of soldiers complete more construction on the building that will serve as a medical facility for the local communities.
Snider is from Warsaw, Mo., where he is married with two children. He has served in the Army for 23 years total. He began his first 11 years of service in active duty. Six of those were served in Infantry and the rest of his time he has been with Engineering. After his active duty service, he became a Missouri National Guard soldier with the 35th Engineering Brigade. He has served during Desert Storm, Operation Iraqi Freedom, and Operation Enduring Freedom. Snider has served on six Beyond the Horizon deployments now.
“This is my sixth Beyond the Horizon deployment,” stated Snider. “But my first as a duration staff. The timing was perfect. I had always wanted to be in a duration spot and I finally had a time I could go.”
Snider’s responsibilities as a duration staff include overseeing the rotation troops as they come into the site, as well as assisting the platoon sergeant with ensuring the job stays on track, facilitating the job site, coordinating meals, and supporting with the battle update brief.
“Going from squad leader with Beyond the Horizon to being in charge of the entire site has been a learning experience for me,” laughed Snider. “But the day you quit learning is the day you’re done. I’ve learned something with every mission, and I’m learning on this one.”
Snider not only works with the American soldiers rotating through the site, he also works with the host nation soldiers who go out everyday to work as well. These host nation troops may not speak any English at all, but that cannot keep the work from getting done. Sometimes alternative methods must be incorporated to get the work going.
“You build a huge friendship with the host nation engineers,” reflected Snider. “There is the language barrier, but everyone on both sides jumps in and works hard. We may have to draw pictures to show what we mean sometimes, but these host nation soldiers become one of the guys to us.”
Snider’s custom of telling the “joke of the day” comes from his time spent in leadership courses where they would show funny video clips before breaks. He has performed some stand up comedy before in his hometown, so he incorporated the two into his customs as a leader.
“I like to get everyone laughing before we work,” Snider reflected. “It lightens the mood, gives your mind a release, and gives everyone a good laugh before we get to work.”