ZACAPA, Guatemala — Approximately 74 Soldiers from the Michigan National Guard’s Marquette-based 1430th and the Sault Ste. Marie-based 1437th engineer companies traveled to Guatemala to participate in Beyond the Horizon 2014. Beyond the Horizon is a joint, interagency combined field training exercise consisting of humanitarian and civil assistance construction projects, medical readiness, training exercises and other construction projects.
During the two-week mission, Soldiers trained on their engineer skills to include masonry, carpentry, electrical work, plumbing and excavating. By building schools and clinics for the local communities of Zacapa, Guatemala, the Soldiers applied their military skill set in a real world mission.
The Michigan Soldiers worked side-by-side Guatemalan Army engineers to learn skills and new ways of doing things while helping the Guatemalans build much needed buildings for their communities. There were definitely challenges in the mission, not the least of which being the language barrier.
Few of the Soldiers spoke Spanish and, though there was always an interpreter on each site, the Soldiers needed to pick up key Spanish phrases quickly to accomplish the construction missions. Staff Sgt A.J. McLarahmore, with the 1437th Engineer Company, carried a notebook everywhere with him and kept notes on new Spanish words he learned for reference each day while working with the Guatemalans.
For many of the Soldiers, this was their first experience with an exercise like this. “To help other people is awesome, I would do it every day if I could”, said 1430th Engineer Company 1st Sgt. Dewayne Ward.
Another challenge the Soldiers had to deal with was the weather. Temperatures exceeded 100 degrees most days, so preventing heat-related injuries and sunburn were top medical concerns. For the Upper Peninsula Soldiers, many of whom had snow on the ground when they left Michigan, this was a monumental adjustment.
Many Soldiers were able to cross train in other skills, doing whatever job needed done to keep the projects on schedule. Spc. Krystal Tucker, with the 1430th Engineer Company, is an electrician by trade, but spent a good deal of her time doing block work.
“Everyone jumped in to help, even the chaplain,” she said. “Learning block work was very interesting and a lot of fun.”
Engineer Carlos Mates Chiquin, a Guatemalan Army Engineer, stated, “It has been great working with the Michigan Soldiers. The experience has improved my block laying skills. We learned from each other.”
One particular project called for the Soldiers to replace a run-down school with a brand new building. The school children requested the Soldiers build them some playground equipment, though that was not in the initial building plans or budget. Not wanting to disappoint the children, Staff Sgt. Andy Kabelman, with the 1437th Engineer Company, said he would see what he could do for the kids.
With the help of his fellow Soldiers and leftover building materials, he built the children a playhouse, complete with monkey bars and seesaws. Some of the Soldiers even chipped in their own money to add a slide.
“The look on the teachers’ and children’s faces when we unveiled their surprise was more than enough satisfaction for me,” said Kableman.
The mission was a resounding success. Soldiers were able to improve on their skills in a real-world environment while providing necessary infrastructure improvements for people in need in our partner countries.
Sgt. 1st Class Mathew Jaqua, with the 1430th Engineer Company, summed up the exercise best by saying, “It’s a very needed mission. All in all, it’s about being a good neighbor.”
Story by Staff Sgt. Helen Miller, Joint Forces Headquarters, Michigan National Guard