By Sgt. Heather Brewer
BELMOPAN, BELIZE - Roughly 50 Marines and Sailors in Belize as part of the Security Cooperation Marine Air-Ground Task Force celebrated Thanksgiving this year at the U.S. Embassy in Belmopan, Belize. The event, which was hosted at the home of the U.S. Ambassador to Belize, featured a traditional turkey dinner with all the trimmings, as well as recreational activities like ping-pong, basketball and tennis.
"This is the first time we have had a chance to host an event like this for Marines," said Lt. Col. Chris Eldridge, Chief Military Liaison Officer for the U.S. Embassy. "As soon as we realized that they were going to be here during the Thanksgiving holiday, we knew we had to do something for them since they are doing so much here."
The newly organized Security Cooperation Marine Air-Ground Task Force is operating as part of Southern Partnership Station-Amphib 2009 in the U.S. Southern Command area of focus. Working in Belize as a part of that mission are Marines and Sailors from Fox Company, 2nd Battalion, 9th Marines; 8th Communication Battalion; engineers from 2nd Marine Expeditionary Unit Headquarters Group; and a fly-in Dental Echelon from Marine Corps Base, Camp Lejeune, N.C.
"The things the Marines are doing here over the next few weeks will be remembered forever," said Eldridge. "The Marines who are doing training for the Belize Defense Force get to be a part of the first Marine training event that they have experienced. The BDF was very excited when they heard that the Marines were coming. Like everyone else, they think of the Marines as being the best of the best; when this opportunity came up, we jumped all over it."
In addition to military-to-military training, the Marines and Sailors from the SCMAGTF will also set up an emergent dental care clinic and will be working to improve conditions at Garden City Primary School in Belmopan, the capital of Belize. The projects at the school include the installation of new sidewalks, painting the exterior of the school and electrical repairs.
"The work that's being done at the school is just amazing," said Eldridge. "We selected this particular school because it is in a low-income area, and the work that the Marines are doing is stuff that the school has been trying to get done for a long time. The teachers and students are so excited that it's finally going to be accomplished. The medical training and dental care being provided is hard to come by in Belize, and the people in Belmopan are really looking forward to this exchange."
The Marines were not the only ones receiving gratitude this holiday season.
"We really wouldn't have been able to host this event without the help of the [Defense Commissary Agency] commissary aboard Charleston Air Force Base in South Carolina," said Jennifer Eldridge, the wife of Lt. Col. Eldridge. "As soon as we called them for support for this dinner, Sharon Strickland [Charleston Commissary Manager] was right there with us, making sure we got what we needed to ensure that everyone had an amazing Thanksgiving meal."
It seemed that the holiday spirit was abundant during the festivities.
"The dinner that the Embassy put on for us was beautiful. Everyone had a lot of fun eating, socializing and playing sports out there," said Petty Officer 3rd Class Anthony Anello, a corpsman for 2nd Dental Battalion, 2nd Marine Logistics Group from Camp Lejeune, N.C. "The hosts were kind and gracious, and the food was fantastic. I think it made us all feel a little less homesick."
While the work being done in Belize will undoubtedly leave a lasting impression, those benefiting from the labor hope that the Marines and sailors can take something from it as well
"We here at the Embassy hope that everyone takes more from this experience than just the accomplishment of the mission. Belize has a rich history and culture, and we wish that you will remember it forever," said Lt. Col. Eldridge. "We look forward to many more future exchanges with the Marines."
The SCMAGTF is currently deployed on Southern Partnership Station-Amphib with Destroyer Squadron 40 aboard USS Wasp. Southern Partnership Station is part of the Partnership of the Americas Maritime Strategy that focuses on building interoperability and cooperation in the region to meet common challenges.