Marine Civil Affairs Unit Brings School Supplies To Nicaraguans

 

Written by  Journalist 2nd Class Brian Brannon

- Published - March 14, 2005

  >>New Horizons Photo Gallery

Cinco Pinas, Chinandega, Nicaragua (March 9, 2005) ? LCPL Neil Miskell, 4th Civil Affairs Group out of Washington, D.C., passes out notebooks to children of this remote village in Nicaragua. Over three months, the Marines participating in New Horizons 2005 will distribute thousands of books and schools supplies to different schools throughout rural Chinandega, Nicaragua. New Horizons is a joint-combined services engineering and humanitarian aid mission that will see the construction of four schools and two medical clinics in Nicaragua. Official US Navy photo by LCDR Angee Linsey

Official US Navy photo by LCDR Angee Linsey

Cinco Pinas, Chinandega, Nicaragua (March 9, 2005) ? LCPL Neil Miskell, 4th Civil Affairs Group out of Washington, D.C., passes out notebooks to children of this remote village in Nicaragua. Over three months, the Marines participating in New Horizons 2005 will distribute thousands of books and schools supplies to different schools throughout rural Chinandega, Nicaragua. New Horizons is a joint-combined services engineering and humanitarian aid mission that will see the construction of four schools and two medical clinics in Nicaragua.

Faded terra cotta tile crowned a grey brick schoolhouse at the intersection of two dusty roads in the village of Augusto Cesar Sandino, in northwestern Nicaragua. The one-room classroom had no electricity – the only light filtered through the windows that have no glass.  Multi-colored letters on the classroom wall read: “Bienvenidos al Pre-Escolar Vivian Los Ninos” (Welcome to Pre-School Long Live the Children).

 

Three U.S. Marines arrived bearing gifts for the 65 pre-school and kindergarten children inside. The books, notebooks, pencils and crayons they brought were donated by families of American service members, American schoolchildren and the Church of Latter-Day Saints.

 

LCPL Alan Parvis, LCPL Samuel Ajayi and LCPL Neal Miskell are part of the 4th Civil Affairs Group (CAG) headquartered in Washington D.C. Among the 350 U.S. Army, Navy and Air Force personnel serving in Nicaragua to support New Horizons 2005, they are the only Marines.

With the rest of the 4th CAG currently detached to Iraq and Haiti, these three E-3s have been entrusted to coordinate with local officials and villagers as the U.S. military builds desperately needed schools and clinics in the Nicaraguan department (state) of Chinandega.  As part of their humanitarian outreach, they also deliver school supplies and books to many of the existing schools in the area.

 

Parvis, from Arnold, Md., says he is honored to serve as a goodwill ambassador for both the United States and the Corps. “It makes you feel good about yourself that they trust you enough to do your job without anyone else,” he said.

 

Partnering with the Marines was their translator, Army Spec. 4 Johnny Alvarez, of the Puerto Rico National Guard, 1-295th Infantry Squad 1. As the Marines passed out the materials, Alvarez expressed how American children donated the school supplies. Everyone smiled as the supplies were passed out.

 

From a neighboring field, the sound of a soil compactor hummed as Army engineers from the 115th Engineer Detachment of Salt Lake City, prepared the foundation of a new four-room health clinic with lavatory and shower facilities. The building is one of two clinics and four schools under construction in Nicaragua as part of New Horizons 2005.

 

Army Sgt. Daniel Vigil said, “I really can say I’m privileged to work for the people of Nicaragua and I hope I can do a job that they’ll be happy with and that they can use this clinic for many years to come.”

The civil affairs team is frequently called to intervene when something unexpected occurs on a jobsite.  On this day, the engineers accidentally knocked over a tree near a house abutting the construction project.  The Marines were asked to ensure everything was all right, and remove the fallen branches.  While there, the mother asked if there was anything they could do for her three-year-old girl, whose foot was injured and infected after it got cut in the spokes of a tricycle. 

 

The Marines called on the Army medic at the construction site to clean and bandage the cut.  They also encouraged the young mother to take her child to the Medical Readiness Exercise (MEDRETE) being conducted the next day at Palo Grande. Over 10 days, Navy Operational Health Support Unit Great Lakes planned to treat up to 5,000 people at three different sites in the area as part of New Horizons.

 

The Marines jumped back into their dusty camouflaged-green Humvee and headed over to the town of Cristo Salvo where the 49th Engineers of Salt Lake City were building a new school. The day before, Parvis met with the governor of Chinandega and his top engineer to plan how soldiers could tap into the main water line.

 

“This is all just coordination,” he said. “A lot of our job is liaison work between the two nations.”

 

Their work done in Cristo Salvo, the Marines piled into their vehicle, this time to travel across 40 kilometers of bad road over winding hills to arrive at Escuela Ruben Dario in Cinco Pinos. As the Humvee pulled up to the school, 50 students dressed in the school uniform of white shirts and blue skirts or slacks came running to the fence, eyes wide as they saw the Marines with boxes of gifts for the school. Teachers gathered the children together in the middle of the courtyard, lined up by grade – first through fourth –  and they patiently waited for the boxes to be unloaded.

 

Maria Esther Pozo, director of the school, thanked the Marines and explained that school supplies are hard to come by because most of the family farmers in the area grow just enough food to feed themselves. Notebooks, pencils, math and science books, scissors, tape and crayons were handed to every child. 

Major Carlos Barrios, commander of a Nicaraguan Army civil affairs detachment, accompanied the Marines from the 4th CAG as they delivered the donations. He explained the actions would help smooth relations between the U.S. military and the Nicaraguan rural population.

 

“It doesn’t just help these kids,” he said. “It helps whole families. What the Marines have done here is a very noble act.”

 

At the end of the day, the Marines realize that their job is to help as many people as they can with the limited resources they have.  During New Horizons 2005, the Marines expect to distribute thousands of textbooks, notepads and pencils, hundreds of student desks and teacher’s tables, soccer balls, baseball supplies, toys, clothes, shoes, medical supplies for the clinics, and one piano.  

 

“An exercise like New Horizons provides training that can’t be found in a classroom,” Parvis said.  “We get to practice civil affairs in the real world, but in a non-hostile environment.  At the end of the day, we can also have the satisfaction of helping people.”