NEWS | Dec. 1, 2010

New Hampshire maintainers teach course for Salvadorians

By Capt. Robert Burnham New Hampshire National Guard

LA LIBERTAD, El Salvador, - Three of the New Hampshire Army National Guard’s most experienced maintenance technicians were mobilized on Nov. 15 to conduct a week-long basic High-Mobility Multi-Wheeled Vehicle operator and maintainer course with the Salvadorian Army’s elite Calvary Regiment.

With more than 50 years of vehicle maintenance experience between them, Chief Warrant Officer 4, Michael Tkacz and Staff Sgt. Jeffrey Bickford, both of Manchester, N.H.; and Sgt. Christopher Mason of Henniker, N.H.; brought their knowledge and experience to the Salvadorian unit who recently upgraded to the latest up-armored HMMWVs, used in modern warfare and peace keeping operations around the world.

The knowledge exchange is part of an ongoing partnership between the New Hampshire National Guard and the Salvadorian Ministry of Defense, a partnership which has been in existence for more than 10 years, said Lt. Col. Ray Valas, the New Hampshire National Guard state partnership program coordinator.

“The adjutant general of the New Hampshire National Guard, Maj. Gen. William Reddel was recently invited to a meeting in El Salvador by the Salvadorian Minister of Defense, Gen. David Muguia. 
“In the meeting, the minister personally requested the support of the Guard to train members of the Salvadorian military that were recently fielded the nation’s first issue of up-armored HMMWVs,” Valas said.

The Salvadorian Calvary Regiment received the small arms and high caliber machine gun resistant vehicles nearly one year ago, said Capt. Alexander Rivas, the calvary squadron commander. 
In addition to the improved force protection, the HMMWVs also provide increased fire power capabilities due to the shielded 360 degree gunner turret, mounted atop the vehicle.  These modern vehicles are a far cry from the open-air Jeep Storm utility vehicles the HMMWVs were fielded to replace for the Salvadorian security forces.

Training conducted has included: generalized vehicle overviews, preventative care and maintenance supervision, riot control response drills, off-road drivers training, and vehicle recovery instruction.
During training, Tkacz stressed the importance of vehicle maintenance to his Salvadorian partners.
“If things are similar in your country, if you’re an auto mechanic, your car is the last one to get fixed. If you’re a plumber, your house is the last one to get fixed,” said Tkacz.  “But in the military, your lives and the lives of those in your vehicles depend on your vehicles operating to the best of their capabilities.”

For Rivas and many of his men, this training has not been their first time working side-by-side with Americans.

In 2005, Rivas along with 300 fellow Salvadorian soldiers, served six months in Iraq, partnering with US and coalition forces to secure Hilla Provence, just south of Baghdad.

Coincidently, their deployment coincided with a time where Tkacz, Bickford, and Mason, also were deployed to Iraq, with their New Hampshire National Guard units, in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom.

“It’s pretty cool,” said Mason, referring to the concurrence of the four soldiers’ service together in Iraq. “I’m sure we drove right though the Salvadorian’s battle space from time to time.”

Back in El Salvador, the mission continues for Rivas and his Salvadorian soldiers who routinely work in conjunction with local law enforcement departments to combat an epidemic of domestic terrorism and violent crime brought upon the overwhelmingly peaceful Central American population by rival gangs.

Despite the friendly nature of nearly six million citizens who reside in the tropical country, cited gang violence such as high profile kidnappings, execution style murders and mass casualty producing attacks have become signature threats to the Salvadorian people. Violent crime has plagued the county since the conclusion of a 12-year civil war which ended in 1992.

“Today, El Salvador reports the highest per capita homicide rates in the Western Hemisphere,” noted Valas.

With more modernized protective equipment, Rivas is confident his troops will be more successful as they work to protect the Salvadorian people.

“The HMMWVs demonstrate to the gangs that our Army is getting stronger and they fear our new technology,” Rivas said. “The gangsters call our new vehicles “little tanks.”

Rivas said the vehicles have greatly improved the effectiveness of our presence patrols.
Bickford has enjoyed the newfound camaraderie with his Salvadorian partners, who have not only taken a liking to the new vehicles but have been eager to learn and demonstrate their maintenance skills.

“Maintenance isn’t a field that gets a lot of attention, but we’re just focused on keeping everything running the way it should,” he said. “It’s been great to come down here and see the same level of interest with these guys.”