South Dakota National Guard supports humanitarian exercise

South Dakota National Guard supports humanitarian exercise
South Dakota soldiers are making progress as they build a two-room school near the village of Caliguate, Nicaragua, in support of a humanitarian assistance exercise called New Horizons.

The 24-member construction crew is part of the first rotation of soldiers from the 153rd Engineer Battalion of South Dakota's Army National Guard.

Arriving earlier this month, they are currently clearing and preparing the site for the concrete footings and floor.


"The soldiers are getting an opportunity to conduct a real-world mission and at the same time see a part of the world most people don't get to experience," said Maj. Todd Bartunek, executive officer for the 153rd.

Bartunek of Huron, said that overseas training missions are something all National Guard units try to support.

"The opportunity existed and our engineers were able to support it," he said. "Dealing with the heat and austere conditions, as well as the language barrier, makes this mission unique."

The school construction is one of many general engineering tasks the unit will conduct during the $7.25 million U.S.-Nicaraguan joint exercise supported by the U.S. Air Force's 820th Expeditionary Red Horse Squadron and the South Dakota Army National Guard.

These New Horizons construction projects in the Central American countries of Nicaragua and Honduras involve the construction of schools, clinics, and water wells.

These humanitarian assistance exercises, which last several months each, provide much needed services and infrastructure, while providing critical training for deployed U.S. military forces. These exercises generally take place in rural areas.

Bartunek monitors the progress of the exercise from the unit's headquarters in Huron, and helps provide needed support for the mission. Over the next five months, the battalion will send four additional rotations to Nicaragua and four to Honduras in support of the exercise that runs from February to mid-June.

Approximately 250 soldiers from the 153rd will be supporting the exercise with each rotation consisting of 20 to 30 troops. The soldier rotations will deploy for 15 days but some will remain for more than 30 in order to make a smooth transition between rotations, said Bartunek.

"The soldiers are currently operating out of Base Camp Caliguate that is located in the central portion of Nicaragua," he said. "They are living in large tents with air conditioning and they have a recreation facility, a sports field and a post exchange."

Bartunek said the missions in Honduras will begin in May and will involve general engineering work.

During the peak of deployments in February of 2004, South Dakota had more than 1,500 National Guardsmen serving overseas at one time. More than 4,000 National Guardsmen are still serving in a non-active duty status in South Dakota.

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