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Guard engineer continues leadership growth in Belize

  • Published
  • By Tech. Sgt. Kali Gradishar
  • 12th Air Force (Air Forces Southern)
This is the third New Horizons trip to Belize for U.S. Army Sgt. Timothy Puckett, a carpentry and masonry specialist deployed from the Louisiana National Guard's 1023rd Vertical Engineer Company.

Eleven years ago, Puckett arrived on Belizean soil for the first time in support of New Horizons Belize 2003. He returned in 2013, and he is in Belize once again for New Horizons Belize 2014. New Horizons is an annual exercise that provides mutual training opportunities for Americans, Belizeans, and Canadians in health care and civil engineering fields.

This year, Puckett is working alongside his Belizean Defence Force, U.S. Air Force and U.S. Marine engineering counterparts at the Hattieville Government School in Hattieville, Belize. The crew is constructing a new building for preschoolers at the school.

Since his first trip to Belize in 2003, things have changed a lot, he said.

"There are definitely more structures and buildings, and the roads are built up more," the Army sergeant said. "There's been a lot of improvement and development since the first time I was here."

Some things, though, never change.

"I've loved it every time. The people have always been so nice," he said. "And because education is basically the foundation to building a nation, it's rewarding work to be on a humanitarian mission, helping people and having a hand in establishing an opportunity for a child's education."

Puckett has had numerous opportunities to help people and expand his world view in the 15 years he has been in the service, ranging from operations in Belize to Haiti and Afghanistan to Germany.

The Army National Guard sergeant said joining the military wasn't his first choice after high school graduation, but things have turned out well.

"I was fresh out of high school, and I had the goal of playing college football," said Puckett, a Louisiana native. "I got injured, and this was my fallback plan.

"It is one of the best decisions I have ever made," he said.

As a squad leader in the 1023rd VEC, Puckett is responsible for accountability, equipping, informing and caring for his squad of up to eight Soldiers. Missions like Belize provide great learning opportunities for him as a leader, something he can bring back to his home unit and to other missions abroad.

"It is good for building my leadership skills to be here with these younger Soldiers. Plus, I feel I can lead them better here since I knew what to expect," Puckett said. "I've always had a sense of pride in being in."

Puckett learned the acronym "LDRSHIP" while in basic training, instilling the characteristics of Loyalty, Duty, Respect, Selfless service, Honor, Integrity and Personal courage.

"I try to apply that every day, and that's helped out a lot in all areas of my life," he said.

Once Puckett returns to Louisiana, his unit will be ramping up for a nine-month deployment to Southwest Asia. It will be his second deployment; the first was to Afghanistan, building forward operating bases and going on security details.

With numerous missions away from home, Puckett has discovered the most difficult part is being away from his family.

"If my kids are sick, there's nothing I can do. And I'm not able to play with them and talk to them as much when I'm gone," Puckett said. "They're always ready for me to come home. That's the hardest part."