SOUTHCOM Returns to El Salvador with Humanitarian Assistance
By Lorena Baires/Diálogo July 12, 2018The Salvadoran Armed Force (FAES, in Spanish) and U.S. Southern Command (SOUTHCOM) launched the combined military exercise Beyond the Horizon 2018 in the municipality of Zacatecoluca, May 31, 2018. Service members focus on improving schools and providing health services to the population of many villages.
“Beyond the Horizon is a SOUTHCOM- and FAES-conducted humanitarian exercise,” U.S. Army Colonel Elliot Harris, senior defense officer at the U.S Embassy in El Salvador, told Diálogo. “Its goal is to provide medical assistance to people with limited resources and conduct engineering projects to strengthen the local capacity for humanitarian response and recovery in case of natural disasters.”
The exercise lasts three months, during which more than 2,000 service members assigned to SOUTHCOM deploy in rounds of 500 troops. “We’ll have the support of the U.S. Army, Air Force, and Navy to work with FAES engineers in different projects,” U.S. Army Colonel Israel Romero, commander of the exercise in El Salvador, told Diálogo. “We learn from each other from this experience and receive the fraternal embrace of those who benefit from it.”
The work of SOUTHCOM and FAES involves expanding classrooms, bathrooms, and kitchens of four schools, as well as building a community center and a maternal health area—an investment of about $10 million. “The exercise responds to the current reality, the current needs of the Salvadoran people. In the past, we cooperated in the construction of potable water wells, and now we provide support to the educational system and specialized health services,” Col. Romero said.
In addition, doctors will take part in a five-day campaign to offer consultations in pediatrics, gynecology, dentistry, geriatrics, and ophthalmology to thousands of people daily. The communities of San Luis Talpa, Olocuilta, and Zacatecoluca, among others, will benefit from the services.
“FAES devotes a great part of its potential in logistics and leadership to assist in the country’s development, especially in those communities that need it the most,” said Salvadoran minister of Defense David Munguía Payés. “The exercise allows us to reinforce strong bonds of cooperation with SOUTHCOM, which has conducted similar exercises for many years in different parts of the country and helped improve the quality of life of children and adults.”
The planning of the humanitarian exercise began in 2016 with bilateral meetings between SOUTHCOM and FAES, with the participation of operational personnel from the Salvadoran ministries of Health and Education, the beneficiaries of the facilities under construction. On April 14, 2018, the USNS Brittin (T-AKR-305) docked at Port Acajutla in Sonsonate department with equipment and construction materials for the humanitarian exercise.
U.S. Army Private Sair Danilso Silverio, a naturalized American citizen from El Salvador, arrived with U.S. Army South to help with Beyond the Horizon 2018. “The exercise is an opportunity to help with the social development of my family’s hometown,” he told Diálogo. “I once dreamed of being part of the U.S. Army and was able to make it happen. I feel proud to be part of a humanitarian mission, back to my roots, and improve my people’s quality of life. I’m very thankful for this opportunity.”
Francisco Salvador Hirezi, mayor of Zacatecoluca, was delighted to receive service members from SOUTHCOM and FAES. “This is a unique opportunity to increase our capabilities. When natural disasters happen, schools are fundamental to provide shelters. Now, Beyond the Horizon 2018 will strengthen schools. Not only will children who study there benefit, but the municipality will be better equipped to face emergencies,” he told Diálogo.
Beyond the Horizon 2018 illustrates the cooperation between the United States and El Salvador through SOUTHCOM and FAES. The exercise, first carried out in El Salvador in 1993 under the name Strong Roads, helped build community roads. In later years, the exercise took on the name Beyond the Horizon to address humanitarian issues. The exchange of experiences seeks to help economically disadvantaged people in the target country and improve local infrastructure.