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U.S. Marines from Special Purpose Marine Air-Ground Task Force - Southern Command and Honduran soldiers from Fifth Infantry Battalion work to install a new pipeline that will provide water throughout the Fuerte Mocoron base in Mocoron, Honduras, Sept. 6, 2016. U.S. Marines and Sailors assigned to Special Purpose Marine Air-Ground Task Force-Southern Command participated in engineering projects, security cooperation and disaster relief preparation in Belize, El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras.

Photo by Cpl. Karen Cruz

U.S. Marines, Honduran engineers work together during construction projects

4 Nov 2016 | Cpl. Karen Cruz The Official United States Marine Corps Public Website

U.S. Marines with Special Purpose Marine Air-Ground Task Force - Southern Command and Honduran engineers spent the last several months working together on several construction projects in Leimus and at Mocoron Air Base, Honduras.

From June to September, Marines and Honduran soldiers from the 1st Honduran Army Engineer Battalion renovated a water tower and constructed a lodging facility which will be utilized by Hondurans conducting operations along the border of Honduras and Nicaragua.

“We have three structures that we are building,” said Cpl. Tyler Simons, combat engineer with SPMAGTF-SC, referring to the engineering projects in Leimus. “(One is) a 16-by-64 foot building that’s billeting for the 10 Honduran soldiers that protect this port here. The second is a bathroom facility for them, and the third is a kitchen.”

Prior to the Marines’ arrival, the Honduran facilities were in need of repair and renovations. By working together, Honduran and U.S. Marine engineers worked to provide an improved base of operations for the Honduran soldiers to work from.

“These guys are living here 24/7 protecting the port, keeping contraband from coming in and out and keeping the people safe,” said Simons. “The billeting that they had prior to this building was not very nice.” 

In addition to building new living quarters, the Marine and Honduran engineers worked together to complete the restoration of a concrete water tower at Mocoron Air Base, which has not been operational for 15 years. 

“The water tower project, here in the battalion, is very important,” said Honduran Army Col. Rigoberto Sandoval, commander of the Fifth Infantry Battalion. “It will take water to all the barracks, and allow for better hygiene of the soldiers.”

The restoration of the water tower is important for the comfort of the Honduran soldiers stationed on the base. It also gives confidence to the surrounding community with the knowledge that the infrastructure to provide clean water is available. 

“With water flowing into the structure for the first time in many years, it shows that these structures can be a viable source of water, which is definitely one of the challenges in this area,” said Chief Warrant Officer 2 Calvin Gatch, the officer in charge of the construction sites with SPMAGTF-SC.

During their time spent at both project sites, the Marines had opportunities to immerse themselves in the local culture, further strengthening bonds with their Honduran counterparts and the locals. The Marines ate local food and were even able to utilize local resources such as fresh cut lumber in Leimus.

“We eat at the local restaurant, we buy snacks from the local store, and I think everyone is benefiting from us being here,” said Simons. “We are trying to help the local economy by sourcing our lumber locally. It’s actually cut ten minutes up the road from here and it’s a group of guys in the woods with a chainsaw that are free handing our lumber for us.”

One of the challenges for the Marines and Honduran engineers was the climate, and working during the rainy season.

“There hardly was a day that it didn’t rain, and it usually rains pretty heavy,” explained Gatch. “That made it difficult to operate our heavy equipment.” 

Despite the difficulties, the Marines and Honduran engineers overcame and continued to stay on schedule with the projects. 

The Marines and the Hondurans working alongside each other has been the least challenging part of the mission, and according to some, the most rewarding. The language barrier was not an obstacle for the mission accomplishment, proving that hard work and dedication can overcome cultural barriers.

“You don’t need a translator for teamwork, enthusiasm, and basic engineering skills” said Gatch. “Our Marines are enjoying this unique opportunity and new friendships; lasting relationships have been created very quickly.” 

Despite the language barrier, the engineers have been seamlessly working together for roughly four months, and in that time they’ve developed great working relationships as well as lasting friendships. 

“We have been working with the American military for a long time,” said Sandoval. “They’re our military brothers and they have supported us and are still supporting us. We support them as well, in any way we can. We’re at the position to help.”

It’s been a very positive experience for the Marines, working alongside the Honduran engineers and the communities they’ve been operating in.

“We’ve enjoyed sharing stories about our lives back home, sharing pictures, telling about our families,” said Gatch. “As some of these projects start to wind down and come to an end, I can tell it’s going to be very difficult to say goodbye to our counterparts and these communities that we’ve grown to enjoy working in so much.”

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