Throughout their six-month deployment, U.S. marines and sailors with Special Purpose Marine Air-Ground Task Force - Southern Command (SPMAGTF-SC) have participated in the command volunteer program to offer their time and services to several countries in Central America. The command volunteer program was designed to create, track, and maximize volunteerism with the service members, and provide opportunities for them to make a difference in the local communities.
“Working with the local population gave marines and sailors an opportunity to take advantage of every moment they had on this deployment,” said U.S. Navy Petty Officer 2nd Class Keshia Powell, the religious program specialist with SPMAGTF-SC. “One of our missions was to build relationships with the host nation countries, so what better way to do that than investing time in their people.”
Some of the opportunities the task force has participated in included volunteering at local orphanages, cleaning up parks, organizing soccer games in the community, and building homes with Habitat for Humanity. “Over 175 SPMAGTF-SC personnel have volunteered over 7,000 hours at 74 different projects throughout Central America,” said U.S. Navy Lieutenant Commander Christopher Stanfield, the SPMAGTF-SC chaplain. “These community relations events have greatly enhanced the host nation communities and partnerships, and were of significant personal value to individual service members.”
For the marines and sailors, many of whom are experiencing their first time outside of the United States, interacting with the community firsthand provided ample opportunity for the task force to see the positive impact they can have on those around them. “Participating in these events gave us more insight and opened our eyes to seeing more than our everyday life,” said Lance Corporal Kaitlyn M. Erkson, intelligence specialist with the Aviation Combat Element, SPMAGTF-SC. “It was a humbling experience and it is something that I hope we will all take back with us and continue to do in our communities back home.”
Building partner relations was a primary mission of SPMAGTF-SC. This included partnership not only with the host nations, but with their fellow service members in Joint Task Force – Bravo (JTF-Bravo), at Soto Cano Air Base in Honduras.
Since 1997, service members from JTF-Bravo have supported more than 500 children at five different orphanages in Comayagua, Honduras. The opportunity for the marines and sailors of SPMAGTF-SC to integrate with them has greatly benefited the children and opened doors to more opportunities.
“We are all here together working towards the same goal,” said U.S. Army Specialist Brittany R. Troha, religious affairs specialist with JTF-Bravo. “The people that we go visit and help will be the future. The partnership between the branches is a great way to shed light on teamwork, which is something we try to teach those we interact with.”
Aside from interacting and developing strong bonds with local people, the service members have a unique opportunity to use their individual skills and talents to make a lasting imprint on those they serve. “Many of the marines and sailors on this deployment are reservists,” said Petty Officer 2nd Class Powell. “Because of this, many of the service members have different skill sets they use on the civilian side. For example, we have former English as a Second Language teachers, sports coaches and artists. These areas of expertise will benefit the people for years to come.”
In addition to the community relations events, marines and sailors with SPMAGTF-SC completed engineering projects in Guatemala, Belize, and Honduras, as well as conducted security cooperation training with their counterparts in several other Central American and Caribbean nations. The unit also participated in humanitarian assistance and disaster relief efforts in the Caribbean Sea as part of Joint Task Force - Leeward Islands in response to hurricanes Irma and Maria.