US Army, May 02, 2015 - EL COCO, El Salvador by Sgt Aaron Rognstad – It was Christmas in spring for hundreds of school children April 30, 2015, as kids and parents alike turned out for a community relations event put on by a combination of U.S. service members and aviators of the Salvadoran air force as part of Beyond the Horizon 2015.
BTH 15 is a humanitarian and civic assistance mission designed to help build schools, clinics and provide medical aid for the people of El Salvador.
U.S. and Salvadoran service members delivered school supplies, candy and pen pal letters while giving their personal thanks to the people of El Coco for the use of their school for a medical readiness training exercise two weeks prior.
“We just wanted to thank everyone here for their participation in our MEDRETE we had here not too long ago,” said Maj. Jose Reyes of Charlie Company, 2nd Battalion, 149th General Support Aviation Battalion out of San Antonio with the Texas Army National Guard. “It’s been our privilege to help them out.”
The MEDRETE helped some 6,200 patients of the surrounding community with medical checkups and treatment.
Reyes delivered 20 hand-written and colored cards from his daughter’s first grade class to the kids of El Coco’s grade school, Centro Escolar Hacienda.
Jose Almica, the school’s director, accepted the cards and was grateful for the school supplies.
“This is a special and unusual day for our school as you can tell by the turnout,” Almica said. “Thank you for your kind donations and also for the help you’re providing specifically to communities in need.”
The 149th also let the students of Centro Escolar Hacienda sit and strap into seats onboard a UH-60 Black Hawk. More than 120 kids took turns sampling the confines of the Army’s primary utility helicopter.
Marine Sgt. Brian Hernandez of the 4th Civil Affairs Group out of Miami helped kids manage their way around the Black Hawk.
“This was more of a hearts and minds type event to show that we’re here to help to bring the community together to improve their lives through our efforts,” Hernandez said.
Even more kids with parents in tow, lined up for candy, pencils and various military promotional items outside the school.
“The kids looked like they were having a lot of fun,” said Spc. James LeBlanc a flight medic with the 149th from Willow Park, Texas. “It’s not everyday you get to interact with someone from another country. Being able to meet the teachers and the educators here; it was just a good opportunity to interact with people I wouldn’t have otherwise.”
Maj. Alan Colley, commander of the civil affairs team for BTH 15, stressed the importance of the multinational partnership that comprises BTH in assistance to the people of El Salvador.
“For us to come down here and help with their medical, construction and civil affairs capacities, we are providing vital services necessary to the growth of this country,” said Colley. “This is a multinational effort in support of a valued partner that has been overseas with us in Afghanistan and Iraq.”