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SPMAGTF-SC Marines conduct security cooperation training across Central America

By Cpl. Melanie A Kilcline Marine Corps Forces South

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U.S. Marines with the Ground Combat Element, Special Purpose Marine Air-Ground Task Force - Southern Command, are conducting training with host nation militaries while deployed in Central America, June - November, 2017.

Working in detachments ranging from five to 12 Marines, the GCE is spread across Honduras, Guatemala, El Salvador and Belize conducting tailored training with the partner nation forces there.. 

“We are teaching three blocks of infantry skills: basic, intermediate and advanced courses,” said U.S. Marine Capt. Andrew J. Beck, the officer in charge of the Belize Detachment, GCE, SPMAGTF-SC. “The first block is structured for enlisted soldiers and coast guardsmen; the second block is structured for noncommissioned officers and junior officers; and block three towards senior NCOs and officers.

The purpose of the security cooperation training is to build a stronger partnership with the host nation militaries and to increase the proficiency and professionalism of their forces, so they can continue to improve the security of their nations. 

“Our primary focus is on the basic infantry skills course,” said U.S. Marine Staff Sgt. Bryan J. Ashton, the staff noncommissioned officer in charge of the Belize Detachment, GCE, SPMAGTF-SC. “We teach things like patrolling, basic marksmanship, land navigation, and some elements of mixed martial arts.”

The host nation military forces also request specific tactics and courses to be taught by the Marines, which influences how each detachment actually structures each course. 

“Here in Honduras they want more Military Operations in Urban Terrain, or MOUT, and short-range marksmanship training,” said U.S. Marine Sgt. Travis R. DiPiazza, an infantry trainer with the Honduras Detachment, GCE, SPMAGTF-SC. “Since that is what they would focus on for security purposes, we are trying to give them a better security posture as a whole.”

In addition to the Marines, each team has an independent U.S. Navy corpsman assigned to them, who is also a certified combat life saver instructor.

“Working with the local nationals, we have been doing weapons training, mixed martial arts training, and some basic first aid classes,” said U.S Navy Petty Officer 1st Class James Robertson, the hospital corpsman with the Honduras Detachment, GCE, SPMAGTF-SC. “Interacting with the host nation military members and learning their culture, as well as seeing how their military operates as a whole compared to ours, has been an amazing experience for our corpsmen and Marines.”

Not only does this training benefit the host nation militaries to make them more advanced and proficient, but it also forces the Marines to improvise, adapt and overcome challenges they have never faced before in training, such as language barriers. The majority of the host nation militaries in Central America speak native languages, and know very little English.

“Language is a huge challenge we have come across here in Honduras,” said U.S. Marine Sgt. David Gaudette, the SNCOIC for the Honduras Detachment, GCE, SPMAGTF-SC, “Most of the Honduran marines do not speak English, but we have completed extensive language training with one of our Marines who is a fluent Spanish speaker.”

Regardless of the challenges they may face, the Marines are looking forward to working shoulder to shoulder with their host nation counterparts to overcome them. 

“The language barrier is a constant struggle,” said U.S. Marine 1st Lt. Benjamin T. Um, the OIC of the Honduras Detachment, GCE, SPMAGTF-SC, “but my Marines have shown vast improvements in their language capabilities since they arrived in Honduras. The Marines are here to train and they show their willingness and ability to train hard every single day. I am very proud of them.”

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