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USSOUTHCOM Deputy commander brings holiday cheer to Ecuadorian schools

  • Published
  • By Mass Communications Specialist 1st Class Michael Wimbish
  • U.S. Southern Command Public Affairs
U.S. Southern Command's deputy commander, Lt. Gen. Glenn Spears, visited two schools in Manta, Ecuador Dec. 10, presenting both with certificates pledging thousands of dollars to fund renovation projects and provide school supplies.

Spears was accompanied by a group of personnel from USSOUTHCOM headquarters and Airmen from the Forward Operating Location that is located within the Ecuadorian Eloy Alfaro Air Force Base in Manta. Spears and the USSOUTHCOM group were in Manta to thank the more than 150 troops there who are conducting counter-narcotics support operations.

The pledges to the two schools -- the Angelica Flores School for the Disabled and the Foundation Shekinah - are part a continuing series of humanitarian projects that the troops of FOL Manta carry out year round to support the children.

At the Angelica Flores School for the Disabled, Spears presented a certificate to the school's vice director, Amalia Reyes, pledging money to repaint the school, build a roof over the school's basketball court and provide desperately needed school supplies.

The school, founded 28 years ago, strives to provide an education that will enable the disable children to become independent, happy adults. Two graduates of Angelica now work at the FOL.

"We in the United States are very happy to share this wonderful season of joy with all of you," Spears told the children. "Today we have the opportunity to commit to you that we will help improve this beautiful school."

Also during the visit, some of the school's children performed for their American visitors with song and dance while the USSOUTHCOM group mingled with the curious and smiling students. Later, Spears and the USSOUTHCOM troops led the school in singing Christmas carols.

"We accept, with much happiness, this commitment knowing with certainty it is going to be carried out," said Reyes.

"Thank you very much for all of your support. In reality, everything that you are doing for us is incredible" she said. "And we desire for you to remain here. For us, the point is, this [FOL] is not just a military base, this is an operating post and as far as we can help so that you remain here with us as friends, as associates, we will always be open and I believe that is the feeling of all of the helpers, all of the parents that are here with us... Thank you," said Reyes.

Besides government funded salaries for the teachers, the school relies almost entirely on non-profit donations. That's why Reyes, who has been at the school more than 27 years, was overjoyed at the donation, according to Air Force Senior Airman Omar Torres, who is the FOL's main coordinator of efforts supporting the school. Torres is deployed from Tinker Air Force Base in Oklahoma and helps maintain the AWACS aircraft that fly counter drug surveillance missions.

"She was so excited about this. She wanted everything to be nice and to be perfect [for the visit]," he said. "This is going to be their biggest project in awhile... I think this is a dream come true for her."

Later, at the Foundation Shekinah orphanage, Spears presented a certificate to the foundation's president, Consuelo Bravo, promising to fund a project to repaint the orphanage's interior and repair its fence.

Shekinah was founded in 1996 and gives shelter to children who have been mistreated or abandoned. According to the school, they work to heal emotional scars and instill a culture of responsibility and moral values. Currently, the orphanage is housing 14 children but can accommodate 45.

"While I have come to visit for just one day, it's our friends at the FOL who work with you all the time that make this possible," said Spears.

According to the orphanage, their staff includes a psychologist and a social worker.

The stop was the third of four-nation "holiday cheer" tour to Latin America and the Caribbean, where the deputy commander is thanking deployed troops while the unofficial command band "Southern Sounds" performs.

The mission of FOL Manta is to help Ecuador protect its sovereignty against drug traffickers by flying counter-narcoterrorism missions in the Eastern Pacific. There are 15 full-time U.S. military personnel who work at the FOL along with an average of 150 pilots, crew members and support personnel who deploy to Manta for a few months at a time.

In 1999, the U.S. and Ecuador signed a bilateral agreement that permits U.S. forces to use a portion of the Ecuadorian air base as a Forward Operating Location to conduct counter-narcotics flights. The agreement expires in 2009.