SANDSTON, Va. – Virginia Army National Guard Soldiers from the Sandston-based 2nd Battalion, 224th Aviation Regiment will spend the summer rotating to Guatemala for two-week missions in support of Operation Beyond the Horizon. More than 110 Virginia Guard Soldiers will support the joint foreign military interaction and humanitarian exercise sponsored by U.S. Southern Command where they will serve as the sole rotary wing asset, providing casualty evacuation support and conducting additional internal load support.
“The Beyond the Horizon mission is an important part of the U.S. Army’s theater security cooperation program,” explained Maj. Kevin Warfield, commander of the 2-224th. “The engineer brigade task force is providing humanitarian support through construction projects and medical assistance events. The 2-224th Aviation Battalion is performing a critical mission for the task force as the only aviation unit to provide casualty evacuation support and general aviation support during the mission. The unit is gaining valuable experience at the staff and unit level on deployment operations and the importance of these theater security cooperation missions.”
This year’s Beyond the Horizon mission began in early April and will continue through the end of June. Over the course of the exercise, six rotations of approximately 20 Virginia Guard Soldiers will deploy to Guatemala, with some personnel staying through multiple rotations
“We’re flying in a part of the world that we’ve never flown in before,” said Capt. Benjamin Zahm, first duration commander for the 2-224th element in Guatemala. “There’s high altitude training opportunities, we’ll be operating around three active volcanoes, which is something we don’t see in the U.S., and it’s a good opportunity to help out and participate in a nation-building mission.”
Load out for the mission began in the final days of March, with the staging of equipment and several UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters at Richmond International Airport. Two helicopters, along with additional gear needed for the mission, were then loaded onto a C-5 Galaxy before heading south to Guatemala with the advanced party for the mission.
Beyond the Horizon is an annual exercise lasting several months and taking place in partner nations in Central and South America and the Caribbean. According to U.S. Southern Command, “the exercise generally takes place in rural, underprivileged areas and is a major component of the U.S. military’s regional engagement efforts and affords a unique opportunity to train U.S. service members alongside partner nation personnel, while providing needed services to communities throughout the region.”
The operation includes Soldiers from the active duty, the U.S. Army Reserve, as well as National Guard Soldiers from states across the country.
“BTH provides support through assessment, construction, and sustainment activities. Construction projects normally include schools, clinics, community centers, water wells, and other quality of life enhancement facilities for the host nation. At the same time, medical readiness exercises involving teams consisting of military doctors, nurses and dentists provide general and specialized health services to host nation citizens and military veterinarians provide basic care to the host nation’s small farm and family animals,” according to U.S. Southern Command.
“I hope the Soldiers get a little bit of appreciation for the method in which we deploy,” said Zahm. “As well as how adaptable we can be and also the experience of working with different nations and operating as part of a task force.”