METETI, Panama – Exercise New Horizons 2018 officially wrapped up June 21, 2018, with a closing ceremony and ribbon cuttings throughout the Meteti, Panama, community at three separate locations where military construction projects have changed the landscape.
This year’s exercise provided more than 350 U.S. service members training in engineering, medical, and support services while also benefiting the local community.
Members of many U.S. and Panamanian agencies came together during the ceremony, including 12th Air Force, the U.S. Embassy, Panamanian Ministry of Health, Panamanian Ministry of Education, Panamanian National Border Service, Panamanian AeroNaval Service, local government representatives and others, showcasing the joint partnerships that helped make the exercise a success.
“Today, we officially close this chapter in the three decades New Horizons story of peaceful partnership between the United States and Panama,” said Brig. Gen Bryan Radliff, 12th AF mobilization assistant to the 12 AF commander, during his closing ceremony remarks. “In doing so, we celebrate the enduring commitment shared by our nations to improving health, safety, security and prosperity in the communities served by this vital engagement.”
Engineers put the more than 17,800 concrete blocks and roughly 4.3 miles of steel to work in three school sites, a community center and a post-natal women’s clinic, while the medical readiness training portion providers saw more than 7,200 two and four-legged patients in three weeks and the surgical readiness providers performed 315 eye and ear surgeries for those in need.
“As I visited all the sites, they really amaze me,” said U.S. Air Force Col. Darren Ewing, 346th Air Expeditionary Group commander. “The buildings we have built here in the Darien are going to last generations. The schools we have built are going to educated kids for generations to come, this team has done that. The woman’s maternity center is going to serve this region for generations. The kids that are born there will probably have kids there. This is an enduring thing.
“Over in Coclé and Veraguas, with the life-changing surgeries, we gave people back their sight in some cases, and with the ear surgeries we were able to correct some pretty serious infections,” Ewing continued. “We received impeccable training to be able to deploy to a pretty austere location and provided medical services to some people in need, and were able to provide treatment for dogs, cats, horses and cows, to name a few.”
The New Horizons 2018 team consisted of all four Department of Defense military branches from active duty, Reserve and National Guard. Exercises like New Horizons also allow members to develop their ability to work effectively while in joint environments.
“While the mission of RED HORSE is inherently to deploy as our own autonomous unit to austere locations and create a base or an operating location from scratch, incorporating the Marines into the team and building with the concrete structural block aren’t things these guys and girls are used to,” said U.S. Air Force Maj. Joel Hearn, 346th Expeditionary RED HORSE Squadron commander. “This is great experience, not only working together or working with the block, but also working through some of the difficulties of securing materials in such a remote area. Ultimately however, the team came together, secured what we needed and everyone did an amazing job on all the projects, especially considering that we started about three weeks late and still finished two weeks early. I’m proud of what we did here.”
Along with the engineering and medical services, the New Horizons 2018 team also participated in Embedded Health Engagements and an Emerging Infectious Diseases Training Event. Both were aimed at enhancing the knowledge of U.S. military doctors and better prepare them to be well-rounded military physicians.
“For our [medical] training requirements, at the Department of Defense-level, there are a set of guidelines for what skills a military medic should have and should train to in an exercise like New Horizons,” said U.S. Air Force Lt. Col. Brian Neese, 346th Expeditionary Medical Operations Squadron commander. “Operational readiness, global health knowledge, cross culture competencies and language skills are all tools that we must develop in order to be effective at our job as military health care professionals. There is no better model to meet these objectives than the Embedded Health Engagement. Our experience here in Meteti has shown this to be true.”
For other supporting units, such as the Marine Corps Reserve’s 6th Engineer Support Battalion from Peoria, Illinois, the exercise provides more than on-the-job skills.
“I have been on many 2-week annual training exercises, none as unique as this one” said U.S. Marine Corp Reserve Chief Warrant Officer 2 Calvin Gatch, 346 AEG combat engineer Marine’s officer in-charge. “Hopefully this experience will stick with these young Marines for a long time and be the basis of long careers. They get to see what they can contribute, they see what the focus of our military is, not just to defend and fight, but also to support in humanitarian efforts and to build relationships.”
Long after the New Horizons 2018 ends, and the service members of the 346 AEG have left the country, the impact the exercise had on the community will be seen for many years to come.
“The time we have shared has left an undeniable impact on our partnership, but more importantly, to the individual, this ceremony represents the celebration of new friendships,” Radliff said. “The members of the New Horizons Task Force are stronger today as international partners and military professionals … ready to face unknown future challenges with the support of our Panamanian partners. We are proud to serve alongside you today … and every day … to impart lasting positive change in your communities for current and future generations. We thank you for allowing us the opportunity to partner with you on this journey and make friends for life.”