METETI, Panama – Exercise New Horizons 2018, an exercise focused on pre-deployment preparation, deploying, operating, and redeploying to a location outside the United States, had the first personnel in country in February to begin laying the groundwork for a variety of medical, engineering, and support services missions soon to follow, providing an environment for a diverse military team to operate and thrive.
Members of the U.S. Air Force, Marine Corp, Army and Navy from Active Duty, Reserve and Air National Guard making up the main group of exercise participants converged in Meteti, Panama, in May, showcasing the true definition of Total Force Integration and Joint Operations.
The Air Force has exercise lead, but all four Department of Defense services are playing a hand in executing the mission.
“It shows the strength of our combined military force. In all facets, it doesn’t matter what your background is,” said Air Force Col. Darren Ewing, 346th Air Expeditionary Group commander. “You can be an engineer in the Air Force or a combat engineer in the Marine Corp, you can be a doctor in the Navy or a doctor in the Air Force; we all have strengths and weaknesses and putting us together in the same locations allows us to build on those strengths and help with each other’s weaknesses.”
While the Air Force is providing the brunt of the personnel from active duty, Reserve and ANG, the mission is enhanced by Marine Corp Reserve combat engineers and civil affairs teams, active duty and Army National Guard and Navy doctors, as well as Army Reserve ambulance drivers and medics.
U.S. Marine Corp Reserve Chief Warrant Officer 2 Calvin Gatch leads a team of Reserve Marine Corps combat engineers from the 6th Engineer Support Battalion, Peoria, Illinois. While his team is in a support role for the exercise, their drive and experience has proven them an incredibly valuable piece of the team and they were quickly assimilated into the ranks of the 346th Expeditionary RED HORSE (Rapid Engineer Deployable Heavy Operational Repair Squadron Engineer) team leading construction efforts.
“We bring our military, and in some cases our civilian experience, to the job,” Gatch said. “We are here to help. If it’s getting a vehicle unstuck, swinging a hammer or laying electrical lines, our role is to demonstrate that Marines, in small group rotations, can make a significant difference on projects like this.”
While the effects of the New Horizons exercise are humanitarian in nature, a primary objective of the program is deployment training, where each member gains experience and works with other branches and seeing the benefits they deliver in accomplish the mission.
“The whole unit becomes stronger and we learn each other’s culture,” Ewing, a 28-year Air Force veteran, said. “The ability to work, where we are not under threat, makes it so when we do have to deploy in a combat situation we are already cohesive, we already have that understanding of how the other services think and act. We have that appreciation for each other’s cultures.”
That appreciation for culture with each service also encompasses each service type.
“In the Air Force we have a guard culture and a reserve culture, but we are all Airmen,” Ewing said. “When you put on the uniform and deploy down range you can’t tell the difference. What’s great about the guard and reserve is they bring civilian skills to the exercise. It’s phenomenal and it makes the whole unit stronger.”