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AFSOUTH gearing up for New Horizons Guyana

DAVIS-MONTHAN AIR FORCE BASE, Ariz. -- Nearly 650 Soldiers, Sailors, Marines, and Airmen are preparing to take part in New Horizons Guyana, a U.S. Southern Command-sponsored annual exercise starting July 1 designed to strengthen ties with partner nations in Central and South America through combined quality-of-life improvement projects.

"New Horizons is all about Airmen working together with our joint partners, non-governmental organizations and partner nations to benefit the community," explained Lt. Gen. Norman Seip, 12th Air Force (AFSOUTH) commander. "This year, our team is working to build critical infrastructure, friendships and a better future for the people of Guyana."

Since New Horizons started in the mid-1980's, SOUTHCOM has built schools and community centers, dug wells, provided medical care, and constructed clinics year after year at the request of numerous countries in the spirit of cooperation and friendship.

New Horizons Guyana is no different -- scheduled to last 75 days, it includes two major construction projects, one school remodel and eight medical readiness training exercises in the vicinity of Georgetown, according to Mr. Chris Donovan, New Horizons Guyana lead planner at 12th Air Force (Air Forces Southern).

All construction projects are in the capital of Georgetown, or in nearby suburbs and will take place simultaneously during the fast-paced exercise. The first is a new school house in Bel Air. The school will be used for teaching kindergarten-aged children. The $230,000 structure is 30 feet by 60 feet, consisting of a main classroom, kitchen, and bathrooms.

The second construction project is a new clinic in the town of La Pentinence. The $350,000 clinic structure will be 30 feet by 90 feet and consist of four examination rooms, an office, a waiting room and bathroom. Since there is a shortage of doctors in the region, a "tele-medicine" capability is being added as well, allowing nurses in La Pentinence to contact doctors in other areas via teleconference to receive diagnoses and prescription orders.

The third construction project is a renovation of a school constructed during a previous New Horizons mission. Both schools will be receiving new playground equipment as well.

Both buildings will be built upon a raised concrete slab to avoid flooding, a serious concern in the equatorial country. The walls are made of concrete blocks, and the ceiling is made of steel. The heavy-duty construction is designed to last much longer than traditional wooden structures which decay at an advanced rate in Guyana's heat and humidity. Engineers had to dig six feet into the earth and use gravel as backfill to ensure rain runoff does not compromise the integrity of the building's foundation.

The scope of planning for the $9 million exercise has taken 18 months to complete. To guarantee completion of all projects in the time allotted, Guyanese contractors have been hired to pour the concrete foundations early. By the time the first wave of personnel arrives, the concrete will have cured sufficiently enough to begin erecting the buildings.

Equipment and medical supplies are arriving by air and by sea. Task Force New Horizons will bring approximately 40% of the equipment and building materials needed to complete all projects by Sept. 15. The aggressive schedule has not been without challenges.

"Most of the units are guard and reserve, so we're rotating about 100 people every two weeks," Mr. Donovan said. "There are a lot of challenges associated with five changeovers in such a short amount of time. But, it's the nature of the beast - there are so many details, you have to be out in front of a challenge before it affects the mission. You have to touch everything."

New Horizons is just one of the missions conducted in Guyana this year. Operation Southern Partner, a military-to-military exchange program, starts May 31, and Continuing Promise 2009, a medical mission aboard the USNS Comfort medical ship has also visited the port in Georgetown.

All missions revolve around U.S. Southern Command's ongoing commitment to theater security cooperation, and are requested by the host nation. By sharing experiences, information, vital skills, tactics, and techniques, the United Sates builds partnerships with nations in Central and South America, as well as the Caribbean, strengthening friendships in a cooperative environment.

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