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Commentary | Nov. 16, 2018

Beyond the Horizons: Combined Joint Engineer Exercise in Central America

By Capt. Marie Adams J7 Engineers

Every summer, in the jungles of Central America you can find Air Force RED HORSE Squadron (RHS), Marine Corp Engineers, approximately 1,800 U.S. Army Engineers and the occasional Navy Seabee. This mixture of Active Duty Soldiers, Reservists and National Guard Service Members come together to form Task Force Engineer, the command & control agency responsible for conducting Exercise Beyond the Horizons (BTH). BTH was inaugurated in 2008 as a United States Southern Command (USSOUTHCOM) humanitarian civic assistance exercise in Central America and the Caribbean. 

Each year engineer units conduct two to three week rotations for three to four months. Their goals are to conduct professional development, increase technical proficiency, enhance partner nation capacity and develop relationships with the partner nation by working alongside military engineers from the host nation. Over the last decade, BTH has partnered with host nation military from Belize, Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Panama and Trinidad and Tobago. Together, this Combined Joint Task Force has built barracks, clinics, facility upgrades, medical wards, orphanages, restrooms, schools and water towers. Additionally, BTH has included medical personnel who provide dental care, family care, optometry and veterinary services.

BTH 2018 Task Force Engineer involved a number of different units from all the services branches and states.  Army National Guard units that participated were Joint Force Headquarters, 83rd Troop Command, and 50th Regional Support Group from Florida.  Air National Guard units that participated were 201st RHS from Pennsylvania, 202nd RHS from Florida, and 203rd RHS from Virginia.  Army reserve units that participated were 380th and 390th Engineer Companies from Tennessee.  Active Duty Army 615th Engineer Construction Company from Fort Carson, Reserve Marines from 6th Engineer Support Battalion, and partner nation engineers from the Peruvian Army also made up the Task Force Engineer Team.  In addition, each site had a number of Partner Nation Engineers that worked with the United States Service Members to support each other’s construction activities and develop best practices, creating a diverse Combined Joint Task Force.  

The mission of the engineers involved in BTH 2018 was to conduct a humanitarian and civic assistance training exercise with partner and host nation military forces. The exercise consisted of five new construction projects to improve the readiness of U.S. forces and provide a long lasting benefit to the people of El Salvador.

U.S. engineer units were able to conduct realistic METL driven training by constructing four schools, four kitchens, three latrines and one clinic.  Engineers improved their proficiency throughout all of the major milestones of the projects. The milestones included site prep, concrete foundation pouring, concrete masonry unit block laying, door and window installation, roof truss setting, roof installation, electrical installation, and plumbing.  The military service members contributed over 47,000 man hours to the collective $700,000 projects.  Service Members from each site also completed a number of different opportunity projects based off of each project’s schedule and the availability of materials.  These included such projects as a gravity fed hand washing station, a volleyball court, a soccer field, a pergola, the repair of damaged roofs and more. 

 The El Salvador Army Engineers spent a little more than three months as part of the Combined Joint Task Force Beyond the Horizon 2018.  First Lieutenant Yamilet Estefani Alabi Montoya (El Salvador Army) said, “My experience working together with members of the 390th Engineer Company (Army) from Chattanooga, Tennessee and Bridge Company B of the 6th Engineer Support Battalion (Marine Corps) was a very rewarding opportunity in both my professional and personal life. We shared the objective of building and improving public schools in rural areas of El Salvador to help more than 600 children by providing them with a dignified place to receive their basic academic studies. 

The task force overcame many hurdles including late deliveries of materials, a language barrier with the local population, working in an unfamiliar Task Force structure with other U.S. and partner nation branches, and the heat of the summer in El Salvador. All of the different services members involved were able to overcome the various obstacles, learn from each other, and complete the mission together.

Back in the U.S. and Honduras, U.S. Army South (ARSOUTH) and Joint Task Force Bravo (JTFB) J7 Engineers are hard at work as BTH 2019 quickly approaches.  Planning conferences and Operational Site Selections have already commenced to build clinics and school in the South Western region of Guatemala.  ARSOUTH will maintain administrative responsibilities for BTH 2019, while JTFB takes over the operations of execution.  Together these two organizations will work to incorporate After Action Reviews, improve the site specific plans and ensure contracts meet the building timeline and requirements. 

First Lieutenant Adams is an Engineer Project Officer for Joint Task Force Bravo, US Army South, Southern Command, Soto Cano Air Base, Honduras. She is a graduate of the US Army Engineer Basic Officer Leadership Course and holds a bachelor’s degree in Civil Engineering from Santa Clara University.

First Lieutenant Fasanella was the Task Force Engineer S3 for BTH 18 and is currently the Commander of the Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 50th Regional Support Group, Florida National Guard, Homestead, Florida. He is a graduate of the US Army Engineer Basic Officer Leadership Course and holds a bachelor’s degree in History from the University of South Dakota. 

First Lieutenant Crawford was the Task Force Engineer Contracting Officer Representative for BTH 18 and is currently the Executive Officer for the 868th Engineer Company, 83rd Troop Command, Florida National Guard, Live Oak, Florida.  He is a graduate of the US Army Engineer Basic Officer Leadership Course and holds a bachelor’s degree in Business Management from Saint Leo University.

Teniente Alabi Montoya was the El Salvador Engineer Project Manager in El Amate for BTH 18 and currently works at the El Salvador Language School for Officers as the Chief of Administration.  She has attended school at the Defense Language institute in San Antonio and worked with the Blue Helmets for United Nations Peacekeeping Missions. She holds bachelor’s degree in Administration of Personnel.