U.S. and Guatemalan service members provide health and education services to indigenous communities in western Guatemala.
One thousand U.S. Army units teamed up with 350 Guatemalan service members to improve the quality of life of the people in Huehuetenango department, on the border with Mexico, as part of exercise Beyond the Horizon 2019, which will take place between May 13-July 27.
The program includes four free medical aid missions in five towns. “These checkups, including general medicine, dentistry, ophthalmology, and pediatrics, will benefit more than 9,600 patients,” Guatemalan Army General Víctor Díaz Hernández, commander of the 5th Infantry Brigade, told Diálogo. “In the end, we will conduct a surgical effort, where we will perform about 50 surgeries daily at Huehuetenango National Hospital, on July 17-27.”
Beyond the Horizon is an annual U.S. Southern Command- (SOUTHCOM) sponsored initiative, planned and executed by U.S. Army South, SOUTHCOM’s land component. The humanitarian exercise focuses on medical aid and infrastructure reconstruction to facilitate humanitarian assistance after natural disasters.
“We are pleased to work with U.S. personnel; we are not only increasing our logistics capacity, but it [the exercise] also gets us closer to the population. We will be able to bring help to the country’s most vulnerable communities,” said Gen. Díaz. “We wear the uniform of the United States to serve others,” said U.S. Lieutenant Colonel Greg Sawmelle, 365th Engineer Battalion commander, in a press release.
Ninety-five percent of people benefiting from Beyond the Horizon 2019 medical services are mainly Mam speakers. “They don’t speak Spanish, which complicates things a bit,” Gen. Díaz said. “Interpreters help patients, translating from Mam to Spanish and from Spanish to English. Guatemala also contributes military personnel, doctors, and nurses.”
To meet objectives, medical specialists from Florida International University and civil organizations from both countries work with SOUTHCOM to guarantee medical assistance. Medication is supplied free of charge.
The humanitarian assistance effort includes the construction of a medical facility, equipped with a pharmacy, waiting room, and offices, in the Tocaz village. Authorities estimate that the project will be ready by mid-July.
“We’re starting this [medical facility] project from the ground up and it’s a really great opportunity for our soldiers to gain more experience,” U.S. Army First Lieutenant Aurora Palumbo of the 358th Engineer Company based in New Cumberland, Pennsylvania, told the press. “Personnel are carrying out engineering works in three schools at Huehuetenango. I can’t stop thinking of how many generations of children will study there,” Gen. Díaz said.
The U.S. Army also provides training to its Guatemalan counterparts in security, communications, and vehicle maintenance to strengthen disaster response capabilities. The 183rd Assault Helicopter Battalion of the Idaho Army National Guard supports victims’ evacuation and transport of equipment for military engineers and U.S. doctors who assist Guatemala.
“Anonymous heroes are behind the humanitarian exercise; specialized service members and citizens who do their job every day to benefit those who need it the most,” said Gen. Díaz. “With their resources and mobile military units, the United States contributes to improving the quality of life and the development of many communities, and prepare us to provide humanitarian assistance in the region.”