NEWS | Nov. 19, 2009

Civil Affairs team delivers supplies, provides vital aid to village of El Sauce

By Staff Sgt. Chad Thompson Joint Task Force-Bravo Public Affairs

A Civil Affairs team from Special Operations Command South, based out of Homestead, Florida, provided vital aid to the small village of El Sauce by dropping off more than 5,000 total pounds of food and water Nov. 17 and 18.

U.S. Southern Command and the El Salvador Military Group requested the team's visit in order to conduct rapid assessments of the most disaster torn areas and provide much needed relief supplies to an area that couldn't be reached by vehicle.

El Sauce, with a population of 1,500, was so disconnected that the team had to take a boat ride from Apulo, along the edge of Lake Ilopango, to get there.

Once the team arrived they made contact with the community leaders and started the disaster assessment.

"We want to be sure we identify what the village needs before we start bringing in supplies," said Army Maj. Nate Reynolds, commander of the Civil Affairs operation. "If the village has food and no water we want to be sure to bring them enough supplies so they will be able to survive until the roads are operational."

Within minutes of being in the village they learned that the community had no potable water source -- a huge problem that required quick action by the team, according to Major Reynolds.

He said they immediately started making contact with the Salvadoran government and military, and started purchasing supplies.

"This mission is by, through and with," said Sgt. 1st. Class Luis Salinas, team sergeant of the Civil Affairs team. "We aren't trying to take control of the situation ... this is to be done by the Salvadoran government, through the government and with the government's help."

This has been a combined effort by Salvadoran government and military, the people of El Sauce, the U.S. Agency for International Development, or USAID, Civil Affairs and Joint Task Force-Bravo.

"It was important to get everyone involved and show we are here to support," Major Reynolds said. "We don't want to do everything. We just want to help bring them the means to get back on their feet, and in the end it will allow the Salvadorans to be more self-sufficient."

Along with the assessment the team reconned the area for a possible landing zone for the Joint Task Force-Bravo helicopters.

A UH-60 Blackhawk, assigned to Joint Task Force-Bravo, was loaded near Ilopango International Airport by Salvadoran military and U.S. servicemembers. The area around El Sauce was so badly damaged by mudslides that the only possible landing zone was about a quarter of a mile from the village. This meant after the supplies were dropped off the villagers would have to walk more than 5,000 pounds of food and water back to the village, Major Reynolds said.

The community leaders said they were extremely thankful for all the supplies.

"It was an honor to receive the food and water," said Vanessa Hernandez, one of the community leaders in El Sauce. "We are grateful for the soldiers who delivered the supplies and we appreciate the government's aid because we are so separated."

The community leaders also turned over a proposal to Major Reynolds in order to bring in tools and supplies to help them repair their water source and well.

"What we are doing today is only short term," Major Reynolds said. "We will turn this proposal into USAID to see if they can do this project, which will provide a more long-term solution to help fix the village's water sources."