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U.S., Belizean governments prepare for major exercise

  • Published
  • By Capt. Justin Brockhoff
  • 12th Air Force (Air Forces Southern) Public Affairs
U.S. embassy and military personnel conducted final site surveys in the Central American country of Belize last week for a major exercise that will test U.S. military members' ability to deploy while building partnerships with host-nation medical and civil engineering experts.

The exercise, called New Horizons, is an annual civil engineering and medical event overseen by U.S. Southern Command, and planned and executed by its air arm, Air Forces Southern.
This year's exercise is slated to begin in April and will entail several construction projects to add new classrooms and buildings to existing schools with manpower provided by both U.S. and Belizean military engineers. In addition, combined U.S. and Belizean medical teams will conduct multiple medical events to provide medical, dental, surgical and veterinary services for rural Belizeans.

Although the exercise won't begin until the spring, preparations have been going on for months.

"Our first survey took place in June and the things we're finalizing during this trip include talking with potential contractors for pre-exercise site work, materials and solidifying timelines for construction and medical projects," said Capt. Richard Hallon, one of the lead planners for the exercise. "The work we're doing now will set us up for success during the exercise itself."

New Horizons dates back to the 1980s and is conducted in a Central American, South American or Caribbean partner-nation at the government's request. Once the location is determined, the host-nation government assembles and prioritizes a list of proposed medical and construction projects, which is balanced against the exercise's training objectives to ensure that participants get the maximum training benefit. From there, planning for the deployment and all of the things that go with it begins.

"This type of training is something we can't get at home because of the details and logistics it takes to complete an out-of-country deployment," said Capt. Donnie Horn, the lead civil engineering planner on the survey team. "We're not only talking about moving the people that will do the work. We've got to pack and prep the right equipment and materials at home-station, work with U.S. Transportation Command to have those items shipped from the U.S. to the exercise location, conduct the exercise itself and then redeploy home. This really takes us through the deployment process from A-to-Z."

The other key benefit U.S. service members receive from New Horizons is the opportunity to learn from and build partnerships with the exercise participants from the host-nation's government and military forces, added Horn.

Over the past 20 years, U.S. Southern Command has regularly partnered with the Belize Defence Force as well as the Ministries of Health and Education to conduct combined exercises that make both sides more prepared to respond to humanitarian relief scenarios.

"Every team out there needs to practice how things will go when you need to answer the call to a real-world situation," added Hallon. "New Horizons gives us the opportunity to exercise our ability to deploy, operate, and re-deploy while giving us the added benefit of working with and learning from our international partners. The fact that the end result of the exercise provides a humanitarian benefit just adds to the value of this opportunity."

Last year's iteration of New Horizons provided humanitarian and civic assistance through six projects in the Chincha, Pisco, and Independencia regions of Peru hit hard by a devastating earthquake in 2007. Projects included the construction of a multi-complex community center and clinic, as well as free medical care to an estimated more than 22,500 people.