USNS Spearhead Completes Humanitarian Mission in Guatemala

The Southern Partnership Station 2017 mission bolstered the readiness of Guatemalan service members and civilians for security in the region
Julieta Pelcastre/Diálogo | 14 November 2017

U.S. Navy Commander Rhonda Lizewski of the Navy and Marine Corps Public Health Center and Intelligence Specialist 2nd Class Matthew Cheatham, of Naval Construction Group 2, distribute bottled water to women and children at Casa Verde Ministries in Puerto Barrios, Guatemala. (Photo: U.S. Navy Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Jeremy Starr)

On October 15th, 2017, the USNS Spearhead completed its training and humanitarian aid mission to Guatemala through the Southern Partnership Station 2017 (SPS 17). The mission: help the local population and promote enduring relations through exchange of ideas and experiences with the Central American nation.

U.S. Navy Lieutenant Commander Jonathan Auten, an ER doctor and the assistant director of Emergency Medicine at Naval Medical Center Portsmouth, helps a Guatemalan doctor dress a boy’s arm during an expert exchange at Elisa Martínez Children’s Hospital in Puerto Barrios, Guatemala. (Photo: U.S. Army Specialist Judge Jones)

SPS 17—an annual series of U.S. Navy missions and deployments—is a U.S. Southern Command (SOUTHCOM)-directed operation planned by U.S. Naval Forces Southern Command (USNAVSO). Their efforts focus on exchanges with military members and security services of partner nations. This year, SPS 17 visited Guatemala, Honduras, Chile, and Colombia.

“All courses taught—particularly Combat Medic courses—are valuable for the personnel who carry out tactical missions where stepping up intensity is necessary,” Guatemalan Navy Captain Mario Artemio Veliz López, commander of the Caribbean Naval Command (CNC), told Diálogo. “These courses can save lives when conducting operations against transnational crime.”

For the mission, the USNS Spearhead landed a detachment of 80 service members, their equipment, and machinery at Puerto Barrios in the department of Izabal. According to a press release from the Guatemalan Army, U.S. marines, in coordination with the Guatemalan Army, worked on various issues—rescue, hygiene and health, medical emergencies, well drilling—and subject matter expert exchanges with medical personnel and civilians. 

For more than six weeks, U.S. service members taught various courses, such as the Newborn Infant Care Course to help babies breathe, the Emergency Cardiac Treatment Course, the First Aid Course, and the Rescue Course. Guatemalan service members and civilians attended the knowledge and experience exchange.

U.S. Navy Lieutenant Commander Joshua Perry, commander of the ground mission, appreciated the opportunity to strengthen regional partnerships and recognized local representatives from the Ministry of Public Health and Welfare, first responders, and interpreters. “We set out on SPS 17 to work with our Central and South American military and civilian partners, to exchange knowledge, and increase our countries’ interoperability,” said Lt. Cmdr. Perry. “The continued cooperation makes Central America a stronger, safer, and more prosperous region, and it was a success.”

Through the Guatemalan Navy, the Ministry of National Defense provided the necessary support to hold coordination, reconnaissance, and preparation meetings to guarantee the success of the operations. Planning for the ship’s visit began in June 2017.

“The most important part was working with the U.S. Navy to bring aid to communities in need,” Vice Admiral Juan Randalfo Pardo Aguilar, commander of the Guatemalan Navy, told Diálogo. “We exchanged experiences on naval topics and trained together to face current transnational threats, making use of the same knowledge at the regional level.”

For the first time, U.S. service members and members of the Guatemalan Army Corps of Engineers drilled a well to provide potable water to local populations. They participated in a joint initiative to rebuild housing. A preventive medicine team from the Navy Entomology Center of Excellence (NECE), of the U.S. Navy and U.S. Marine Corps, also instructed local residents and service members on preventing insect-borne diseases and pest control management.

“Southern Partnership Station is an annual humanitarian, training, and interoperability mission conducted in Guatemala and other partner nations” said U.S. Navy Captain Steven Stacey, SPS 17 mission commander. “The Southern Partnership Station concept is based on the premise that strong, open, multilateral partnerships enhance regional stability and security, in support of the U.S. maritime strategy. In Guatemala we engaged with local health units in municipalities around Izabal. We engaged in Subject Matter Expert Exchanges on mosquito control, environmental health, basic life support, and perinatal protocols for neonatal respiratory care and prevention of postpartum bleeding.”

U.S. Navy Lieutenant Commander Jonathan Auten, an ER doctor and the assistant director of Emergency Medicine at Naval Medical Center Portsmouth, helps a Guatemalan doctor dress a boy’s arm during an expert exchange at Elisa Martínez Children’s Hospital in Puerto Barrios, Guatemala. (Photo: U.S. Army Specialist Judge Jones)

Various Guatemalan government agencies joined the mission, including the Ministry of Public Health and Social Services of Izabal, the Elisa Martínez Children's Hospital, and the Japan-Guatemala National Friendship Hospital. The CNC provided the use of its facilities for the U.S. delegation to set up camp. A Guatemalan Marine Corps brigade provided ongoing security for U.S. military personnel on their way to different assignments.

Social outreach

“The United States works closely with Guatemala to meet the daily needs of our citizens,” Vice Adm. Pardo said. “Through USNAVSO, the United States has conducted humanitarian aid and engineering work at educational centers through medical assistance and surgery campaigns in Puerto Barrios since 2014.”

The USNS Spearhead visited Guatemala twice in 2017—first in February, as part of the Continuing Promise mission, then with SPS 17. SOUTHCOM sponsors both missions annually to provide medical treatment, humanitarian aid, and civic support to communities in Latin America and the Caribbean.

The USNS Spearhead is a 103-meter-long catamaran with a 600-ton container capacity. The vessel participates in Operation Martillo, a SOUTHCOM-led initiative to counter drug trafficking in the Pacific and Caribbean waters. The ship also assists with humanitarian aid and natural disaster operations throughout the region.

“More than 11,000 people have benefitted from Continuing Promise and Southern Partnership Station 2017,” Vice Adm. Pardo said. “This demonstrates the United States’ strong commitment to Guatemala—a commitment that promotes interoperability and security in the region.”

“These missions strengthen the bonds of cooperation and friendship between both nations through their naval forces, which provide social outreach for the people of the department of Izabal, especially in the municipality of Puerto Barrios,” Capt. Veliz added. “It gives us the opportunity to interact and have new experiences that will serve us well in the future.”

“On behalf of the entire SPS 17 team, I am grateful for the support we received during our time here in Puerto Barrios,” said Lt. Cmdr. Perry. “I want to congratulate the naval forces of Guatemala and the United States on a job well done.”

Successful Mission

According to Vice Adm. Pardo and Capt. Veliz, SPS 17 was a success. The objectives set out were amply met, both in matters of community cooperation and the knowledge the U.S. personnel shared with their Guatemalan counterparts.

“The personnel’s goodwill was seen at all times in this mission through the support provided in various situations raised, which highlights coordination and teamwork,” Capt. Veliz concluded. “We must consider other integration activities with U.S. personnel to strengthen our bonds of friendship.”

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