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188th Civil Engineer Squadron builds hope, relationships in Guatemala's 'Beyond the Horizon'

  • Published
  • By Lt. Col. Richard Garringer
  • 119th Mobile Public Affairs Detachment
The 188th Civil Engineer Squadron of the 188th Fighter Wing, Arkansas Air National Guard, recently deployed to Guatemala for one month in support of Beyond the Horizon, which is a U.S. partnership with the government of Guatemala conducting various medical, dental and civic actions programs.

The primary objective of Beyond the Horizon is to provide focused humanitarian assistance.

The 188th civil engineers built a school in the remote village of El Robles, Guatemala, during their deployment, which spanned one month. The Airmen returned from Guatemala May 3. The two-room school will facilitate instruction for approximately 100 students.

"We're extremely proud of all the hard work our civil engineers put into this project," said Col. Mark Anderson, the 188th Fighter Wing commander. "The 188th Civil Engineer Squadron performed admirably and has made its state and community proud as well. The dedication and expertise of our Airmen not only built the Guatemalan children an outstanding educational facility, they built important training partnerships with the local military and built positive relationships with the local Guatemalan communities."

Beyond the Horizon also allows U.S. military personnel and units to sharpen their occupational skills and practice deployment and redeployments while bringing lasting benefits to partner nations and their people. It is a major component of the U.S. regional engagement efforts and affords the opportunity to train service members while providing needed services to communities throughout Central and South America.

"It makes me proud to be able to come here and give some time to people who are less fortunate than us in the United States," said Master Sgt. Larry Ricketts, an Arkansas National Guardsman with the 188th Fighter Wing's Civil Engineer Squadron. "It makes me happy to see their faces as they smile and wave when the U.S. military drives through town. The people are just waiting for someone to interact with them. It makes you feel good to wave at a child and get a smile in return."

This is Ricketts first time to construct a building in Guatemala. He has 25 years of combined experience with combat and civil engineers. Ricketts grew up in Van Buren, Arkansas, and graduated from Van Buren High School in 1978. He enlisted in the U.S. Army in 1988 as a heavy equipment operator, trained at Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri, and was stationed at Fort Knox, Kentucky. He returned home after his active duty obligation and joined the 188th CES. His unit deployed to Iraq in 2005.

"When I was in Iraq the showers did not come very often and the electricity went off quite frequently," Ricketts said. "It's the same thing here. When you are home you don't have to worry about whether your lights will come on where your water comes from. We take it for granted a lot of times. Coming down here puts things in perspective."

Ricketts' most memorable moment in Guatemala was when they first arrived at the job site and saw three young children climbing a tree to get a better view of the engineers, not unlike sports fans trying to get a view of the action.

"We were giving them something they did not have and they wanted to watch the whole thing from the beginning," Ricketts said. "It makes you feel good."

The Guatemalan soldiers also received instruction and training on heavy equipment from the members of the 188th CES during the deployment.

"On heavy equipment, the biggest way to learn things is actually hands on," Ricketts said. "It is something you can't read in a book."

The Airmen used an interpreter and showed the Guatemalan engineers what the controls do and how to run the equipment.

"The best thing you can do is to step back and then let them do it," Ricketts said. "I think they really enjoyed that. Operating the equipment is something that most of them never get to do in their lifetime."

Staff Sgt. Lance D. Hobbs, from Lavaca, Arkansas, also assisted in the training. He said the language barrier was challenging, but he learned a great deal during the process.

"With the help of the interpreter, it is a fun experience," Hobbs said. "The interpreter told me they don't get a chance to operate heavy equipment. You could tell it was exciting for the Guatemalan engineers and it was a lot of fun to see. They seemed to enjoy it and that was a good experience. It just gives you a sense of pride in what you do."

Hobbs and the 188th civil engineers toured the village's current school facilities and said it put matters in perspective.

"It was mixed emotions," Hobbs said. "It was depressing seeing the conditions that they learn in now and at the same time it was inspiring to know that what we are building will help these kids: give them more room, give them something cleaner, nicer and better.

"The children are carrying loads of wood for cooking every day. They are walking cattle to the water hole. Even the children are part of the workforce in the family. I feel, when you give something to people here, they are more appreciative of what little bit you give them."

Ricketts said his hope is that that the new school facilities will lead to a brighter future for the Guatemalan children.

"Everybody learns at a different rate and many things affect a student's learning ability," he said. "If they are in a better learning environment, I think they'll learn easier and at a faster rate. The new classrooms will create an environment where the teacher can better instruct. Building the school for the kids is really what this is all about, helping them build their future!"

In 2012, the 188th CES deployed to Guatemala and built a maternity ward at a medical clinic in Tactic, Coban.

"I thought about coming here and what it was going to be like," Ricketts said. "The first couple of days were pretty hot. After traveling to the worksite, seeing the kids, and the conditions of the school it makes me want to volunteer for the next one. I will come back!"