LAS MARIAS, El Salvador - Beyond the Horizon – El Salvador 2013, a three-month humanitarian effort, came to conclusion here June 18 during a ceremony held to celebrate this joint, multi-national effort involving hundreds of military members from multiple countries.
The ceremony marked the conclusion of this year’s efforts of hundreds of military engineers, doctors, nurses, medics, veterinarians, and others that provided thousands of man hours toward the improvement of education and health in the district of Sonsonate.
Soldiers from the New Hampshire Army National Guard led the task force for the duration of the exercise.
“It’s an incredible feeling to be at this point of completion,” said Lt. Col. Raymond Valas, Joint Task Force Jaguar commander. “We’ve treated thousands of medical and dental patients, treated thousands of animals, and we’ve built three new schools as well. It’s kind of breathtaking to look back and see what we’ve accomplished.”
These missions were accomplished in partnership with military service members from the U.S., El Salvador, Colombia, Chile and Canada.
These countries all made significant contributions to the efforts here, according to Valas.
“The legacy of this mission has multiple facets,” said Valas. “We’re leaving behind schools, we’ve provided medical and dental care for thousands, but the one benefit that isn’t as apparent is that we’ve changed as soldiers and airmen. We’ve developed true bonds between military members as well as community members. These bonds were made by sweating, working, and interacting together.”
The interactions in the communities, especially with the children at the school sites, led to an admiration that was demonstrated on a regular basis.
According to many of the soldiers, that admiration provided a great deal of much-needed inspiration during this exercise.
“The soldiers had to overcome some physical challenges for sure,” said Maj. Mark Bianchi, Joint Task Force Jaguar executive officer. “The conditions here were austere. They had to build up most everything from the ground up: sleeping quarters, food service and communications. But what we’ve really created here is good will and new friendships. Our task force will be remembered in a positive way in El Salvador.”
Over the course of this exercise, the countries involved provided military expertise in order to conduct all of these operations. They included the construction of three new schoolhouses, a latrine facility at an existing school, free medical and dental clinics that served approximately 10,000 patients, and the vaccination of thousands of domestic animals.
The scope of the project placed military members in several locations, spread across this district.
“Our most profound thanks for the collaboration with the United States, Canada, Colombia and Chile, because with their help, these projects have become a tangible reality,” said Salvadoran Brig. Gen. Jose Atilio Benitez Parada, minister of defense. “This collaboration drives us to a better future of social stability and better health, allowing us to develop and reach our place in honor between the nations of the world.”
As a result of this collaboration and planning, rotational military units from the U.S. conducted their mandatory two-week annual training here and fulfilled their training obligations.
“The result of this training exercise is more than just checking a box,” said Valas. “The added benefit is that we are leaving a lasting benefit behind for the people of El Salvador. New Hampshire has had a relationship with El Salvador for many years now. Beyond the Horizon-2013 has taken that relationship to the next level. We are taking lessons learned from this event, and plan to come back in the future.”