Nearly 100 members of the Pennsylvania Air National Guard 201st Rapid Engineer Deployable Heavy Operational Repair Squadron Engineer units from Horsham Air Guard Station and Fort Indiantown Gap deployed to build a medical clinic as part of exercise Beyond the Horizon in La Blanca, Guatemala.
Once completed, the new clinic will supply basic medical care and serve as a location to identify parasitic and insect-borne diseases, as well as hepatitis, HIV and AIDS.
Aside from the newly constructed facility, the closest medical resource to the town is in Guatemala City, a treacherous five mile journey.
“The clinic holds about eight to ten beds,” said Senior Master Sgt. Ronald Hinsey, 111th RED HORSE Squadron, Det. 1 structures superintendent. “It has the capacity to see approximately 100 patients per day. So, this allows medical personnel to check residents for illnesses that plague this area, like hepatitis, AIDS, and the Zika virus.”
A humanitarian mission rooted with altruistic intentions was not without its challenges.
Upon initial excavation of the area, the ANG team quickly unearthed a myriad of utilized medical supplies. The cache of used latex gloves, syringes and vials revealed an obvious and unsettling conclusion: “We realized we were working in a former medical waste dumping site,” said Hinsey.
The polluted location, a water shortage and swarms of disease-carrying insects were a few of the many obstacles tackled by the team. Hinsey said that the threats and security concerns were apparent, but “The Horse” charged on.
Even with the inconveniences and inherent risks, the Airmen succeed in their fabrication efforts.
“Pride,” said Maj. Seth Foulkes, 111th Attack Wing RED HORSE Squadron, Det. 1 operations flight commander. “In the RED HORSE community, we take a lot of pride in what we do, and it doesn’t matter how challenging the environment. Our pride will not let us disappoint.”
As the Guardsmen forged structural bonds, they also crafted international ones, according to Senior Airman Christopher Montague, 111th RED HORSE Squadron, Det.1 heavy equipment operator.
“Interacting with the local kids was definitely a highlight for me,” he said. “The villagers were very welcoming to us being there — happy we were providing them with a clinic.”
Montague continued by telling how he and the other Air Guardsmen had opportunities to spend time with the locals and even partake in a bit of bartering. “It was great hanging out with the kids there; I even traded one kid a soccer ball for a pair of socks.”
The Guatemalan military supplied the bed-down facilities for U.S. troops, as well as the armed security support for all U.S. assets.
However, partnerships created during the three-month mission weren’t just international. The RED HORSE members of the commonwealth also connected.
“The crew was half [Fort Indiantown Gap] and half [Horsham Air Guard Station], so we had the opportunity to work with people we don’t normally work with,” Hinsey said regarding the six rotations of deployed Guard members.
Additionally, Horsham AGS’s own squadron become closer during the time away from home station.
“Living, eating and working together daily, we were able to get to know each other better than we do just on a drill weekend,” said Hinsey. “It makes us a tighter group.”
Foulkes reinforced Hinsey’s statement, saying that while reserve forces connect during unit training assemblies and annual tours, missions like this one achieve enhanced results.
“Forward deploying to an austere location is a great way to get to know your folks,” said Foulkes. “Because one-weekend a month you can’t do it as effectively — so, it’s a terrific opportunity.”
Overall, he stated that the mission was a tremendous success. The medical clinic was properly erected for an area in desperate need, all while strengthening local and international bonds.
“The U.S. military cares,” said Foulkes. “And we have a range of military options that go beyond combat — in particular, humanitarian assistance.
“There’s no better way of helping out another country than by providing them with a facility that offers a degree of medical capacity to care for their own people — and the RED HORSE was honored to do it.”