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New Horizons Belize holds closing ceremony

Ceremony officials cut the ribbon at the New Horizons 2007 Belize closing ceremony in Hattiesville, Belize, May 18.  This two-room school is one of four schools built by U.S. and Belizean Defense Forces personnel.  U.S. Air Force photo by Capt. Alysia Harvey

Ceremony officials cut the ribbon at the New Horizons 2007 Belize closing ceremony in Hattiesville, Belize, May 18. This two-room school is one of four schools built by U.S. and Belizean Defense Forces personnel. U.S. Air Force photo by Capt. Alysia Harvey

Brig. Gen. Ken Keen receives a thank-you plaque from a girl who will attend the newly constructed school in Hattiesville, Belize, May 18.  This two-room school is one of four schools built by U.S. and Belizean Defense Forces personnel.  U.S. Air Force photo by Capt. Alysia Harvey

Brig. Gen. Ken Keen receives a thank-you plaque from a girl who will attend the newly constructed school in Hattiesville, Belize, May 18. This two-room school is one of four schools built by U.S. and Belizean Defense Forces personnel. U.S. Air Force photo by Capt. Alysia Harvey

A U.S. service member passes out balloons to Belizean children outside the newly constructed school in Hattiesville, Belize, May 18.  This two-room school is one of four schools built by U.S. and Belizean Defense Forces personnel.  U.S. Air Force photo by Capt. Alysia Harvey

A U.S. service member passes out balloons to Belizean children outside the newly constructed school in Hattiesville, Belize, May 18. This two-room school is one of four schools built by U.S. and Belizean Defense Forces personnel. U.S. Air Force photo by Capt. Alysia Harvey

HATTIESVILLE, Belize -- The New Horizons 2007 Task Force Belize held its closing ceremony here today, having been in the country for three months constructing four two-room schools in four Belizean villages valued at approximately $360,000. 

Led by the Louisiana National Guard, New Horizons 2007 Task Force Belize consisted of approximately 1,000 U.S. military personnel from 11 different states and members of the Belizean Defense Force working together to build the new school buildings, which are strong enough to withstand hurricane force winds. Additionally, U.S. service members provided medical, dental and veterinary services to more than 6,000 people and 2,000 animals. 

These were "extraordinary accomplishments by truly dedicated men and women" said The Adjutant General of the Louisiana National Guard, Maj. Gen. Bennett Landreneau, who gave a speech during the ceremony. 

"Someone once said the only way to have a good friend is to be a good friend...I believe the BDF and the members of the Louisiana National Guard have become good friends," he said. "New Horizons is about training and building relationships, and we hope the BDF has benefited from this as much as we have." 

U.S. Army South Commander, Brig. Gen. Ken Keen, echoed General Landreneau's sentiments, saying it was an honor to be present for the ceremony, to be able to help improve education conditions in the villages, and to recognize the partnerships between the BDF, USARSO, U.S. Southern Command, and the Louisiana National Guard. 

"The medical, dental and veterinary services are good and important, but the real impact is here with this school and the children to my left," said General Keen. "This school represents the hope of all our people as we confront challenges together in this hemisphere, and it also represents the hope we have for our children who will be educated here and become our future leaders." 

He went on to say the new school buildings will have a lasting impact, which will serve the children and benefit the country of Belize as well as other nations within our hemisphere well into the future. 

U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Alfred Young, presently a drill sergeant assigned to Ft. Jackson, South Carolina, is the epitome of what General Keen was speaking of. 

Sergeant Young, who was born in the U.S. but grew up here, was 11 years old when U.S. service members renovated his school building. When he saw an article on the Internet about New Horizons building a school in Hattiesville, he emailed General Keen to thank him and everyone else who was going there to help. He also shared his story of being a child here and watching servicemembers work on his school and how their professionalism and dedication had motivated him to join the U.S. Army. 

"I said I want to be a part of that...I want to be all that I can be," said Sergeant Young as he reminisced on watching the construction as a child. "So, I went back to the U.S. in 1999 and joined the Army." 

He arrived in Belize April 1, seeing his sister, brother, grandfather, aunts, uncles and cousins again for the first time in nine years. He said his family was extremely excited when he told them he was returning to Belize to work on the school, and that being there is great because he is giving back to his community and serving in a military that has given him so much. 

"It's like someone has 'flipped the script' - the children are me and I am the one they are looking up to and thinking they too can be somebody some day," he said. "Being here today is overwhelming, and I really want to thank General Keen for giving me the opportunity to come back and help out." 

Sergeant Young wasn't the only one who reminisced during this mission, as many of the service members on this task force were involved in Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, which hit Louisiana in 2005. Coincidentally, Hattiesville was established after a hurricane devastated nearby towns in 1961. 

"All of these Soldiers were in Louisiana before the hurricanes and they were there to assist in the aftermath of [Hurricanes] Katrina and Rita...there some service members who are still there now," said General Landreneau. "The ones here see this community and know its history, and it feels good to know that this new building is not only for education, but can also be used for sanctuary." 

With bitter-sweet memories during the construction and many fond memories to take with them as they return home, all of the guest speakers thanked the service members for their hard work and dedication to the mission. All of the planned construction projects were completed on time and within budget, and many of the guest speakers said today's dedication could not have come at a better time, as this week was National Education Week in Belize and today is National Teacher's Day. 

Additionally Sir Colville Young, Governor General of Belize, added that today's ceremony was three-fold: it was a closing ceremony, the official handover and receipt of the new school building, and an opportunity to say well done, thank you and farewell to the members of the task force. 

"This effort showcases the versatility of U.S. forces," said Governor General of Belize, Sir Colville Young. "Instead of using rifles and bullets, they have used hammers and nail to build lasting peace."

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