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Civil Affairs teams ensure local population needs met

  • Published
  • By Tech. Sgt. Kali Gradishar
Four long-term staff and five rotational teams of civil affairs members traveled the country of Belize to ensure local population needs were considered during New Horizons Belize 2014.

New Horizons is a multi-faceted exercise that provides mutual training opportunities for civil engineer and medical entities from Belize, Canada and the U.S. while providing structures and services for the Belizean people. Civil affairs plays an imperative role in the execution of such missions.

"Civil affairs is the unit that is specifically trained, organized and equipped to conduct civil military operations. We are tasked with the actions of the commander that establish and maintain relationships with the civilian populations," said U.S. Marine Corps Maj. Shaun Thomson, New Horizons Civil Affairs duration staff officer. "We do that by talking to the locals and studying their culture, that way we can further advise and coordinate those civil military operations that are most appropriate for that culture.

"Civil affairs is focused exclusively on the civilian population," added Thomson, a Reservist with the 1st Civil Affairs Group at Camp Pendleton, Calif. "We communicate with individuals, and we establish relationships with key leaders within a community. We need that interaction to ask what services are needed and where services are needed. "

Two army enlisted members and two commissioned Marine Corps members provided continuity and ensured each team of Reserve Marines had direction and an understanding of their mission in Belize.

"Being a part of the durational staff allowed the rotational teams to get out and do their mission because we passed on the information they needed to know to prepare them," said U.S. Army Sgt. 1st Class Julio Arredondo, New Horizons Civil Affairs deployed from the 490th Civil Affairs Battalion out of Grand Prairie, Texas.

From late March through mid-June, the civil affairs teams and durational staff were involved in numerous activities within the communities; however, planning for the mission started long before arrival in country.

"We do what's called area studies, which are in-depth evaluations of areas before we go there," said Thomson, who has been on two civil affairs deployments to Afghanistan but is on his first civil affairs humanitarian mission.

While in Belize during the medical readiness exercises in the northern Corozal District and southern Toledo District, civil affairs members asked Belizeans how the New Horizons medical teams could better serve their communities. Then, they acted on those suggestions as they were able in coordination with New Horizons medical logistics members. The teams also conducted interviews with people receiving medical care and owners of animals receiving veterinary care to assess the efficiency and necessity of medical and veterinary teams in the regions.

"The benefit of having civil affairs in that capacity is they can observe firsthand how the population is receiving these services," Thomson said. Then, they can make suggestions to adjust operations as needed and if possible.

Beyond supporting the medical readiness training exercises, the civil affairs team worked with various non-government organizations, or NGOs, that donated school and medical supplies and furniture. Arredondo, with assistance from civil affairs team members, coordinated the reception of more than 70,200 pounds of donated items worth approximately $135,500 donated to New Horizons Belize 2014 by the Midwest Mission Distribution Center, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints and the Department of Defense Humanitarian Assistance Program.

"This is my first humanitarian mission with civil affairs, and it's been a different experience operating here compared to operating in other deployed locations," said Arredondo. "Here, we've been able to experience working with non-government organizations, and it's been a good opportunity to see a different side of civil affairs.

"It's also been an eye-opening experience working with other military services," Arredondo added.

Once the donated items arrived, the civil affairs teams coordinated with the Belize Defence Force and other volunteers to distribute the items to hospitals and schools throughout the country.

"It was a lot of lifting and moving," said Arredondo, "but it's good to see that all of these donated items are going to places that need these items and will use them."