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NEWS | Dec. 11, 2008

MA Guardsmen prepare Paraguayans for peacekeeping support

By Capt. Christopher Perron 101st Engineer Battalion

WHITINSVILLE, Mass. - Against the familiar challenges of limited manning, under-funding and over-tasking, the Paraguayan military has reached out to the United Nations and U.S. Southern Command to express its willingness to provide a company to support global peacekeeping operations.

Under the direction of Col. Ruben Peña, commander of the Joint Education Center for Peace Keeping Operations, the Paraguayan military brought together service members from the army, air force and navy to staff the 175-person multi-role engineer company with the support of the U.S. State Department to provide equipment and training to prepare the unit for deployment.

A team of Massachusetts Guardsmen, including: Maj. Timothy Byrne, Maj. Ralph Pickett, Sgt. 1st Class John Gulla and Staff Sgt. David Nicholson from the 188th Engineer Detachment; Maj. Jackson Macomber from Camp Edwards; and Capt. Dominic Ditomaso from the 26th Brigade Combat Team traveled to Paraguay to conduct an evaluation of the multi-role engineer company during their field training exercise last summer. The Soldiers lived and worked side-by-side with their Paraguayan counterparts during the two-week exercise.

Col. Milciades Rojas, commander of the Multi-Role Engineer Company, led them from the capital of Asuncion, three hours into the countryside to the historic site of Camp Cerro Leon, were the Paraguayan army was founded in 1850 by Gen. Carlos Antonio Lopez.

The unit was evaluated on its ability to conduct base camp security, execute multiple engineer projects, conduct staff operations and react to civil unrest. These evaluations were essential to the company in its preparation for future possible deployments. The Paraguayans were very receptive to advice from the Guardsmen and quickly put to use recommendations that were provided.

Key tasks completed during the exercise were: provide services to the community by remodeling a clinic; refurbishing a playground by rebuilding and painting the fencing; and rewiring the lights in the park. They also built swing sets, benches, and walkways. Using handmade bricks baked from clay and straw, they built several culverts along the side of the roads to improve drainage.

The ingenuity of the Paraguayan soldier was outstanding in making field-expedient tools using local resources to complete jobs. During the re-supply of materials they worked efficiently to manually load and unload materials with high morale and speed. Additionally, they capitalized on the opportunity to build positive relations with the local community by giving rides to children and villagers in their armored personnel carriers.

Near the end of the exercise, Col. Paul G. Smith, commander of the Massachusetts Army National Guard's 26th Maneuver Enhancement Brigade, traveled to Paraguay to meet with the unit commander and senior officers to discuss the evaluation and recommendations of the exercise.

"Our team did a great job of coaching their Paraguayan counterparts and they gained instant credibility by working alongside them and sharing their living conditions," Smith said. "Right now, I'd be proud to serve beside the multi-role engineer company anywhere in the world. They've come a long way."

The Massachusetts National Guard will provide continued support to the Joint Education Center for Peace Keeping Operations and the Multi-Role Engineer Company, which will deploy soon in support of global peacekeeping operations.