Bonds of brotherhood reach from Central America to Iraq

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http://news.soc.mil/releases/News Archive/2009/February/090203-02.html

AL KUT, Iraq (Courtesy of CJSOTF-AP Public Affairs, Feb. 3, 2008) – After several years of service, El Salvador re-deployed the last of its troops Jan. 22. Since El Salvador entered Iraq in September 2003, the country has deployed 2,000 troops and integrated resources with Coalition forces to rebuild Iraq and provide humanitarian assistance to the populace.

In August 2006, El Salvador’s Cuscatlán Battalion and U.S. Special Forces Soldiers made use of their well-established, SF relationship in Central America to embark on a three-year reconstruction effort in the Wasit Province.

“Because our Soldiers are also SF, we have a strong relationship with the USSF – not only concerning missions, but on a daily basis,” said Lt. Col. Sandoval, an officer in the Cuscatlán Battalion.

As allies, each offered the other valuable tools to complete the mission. While USSF Soldiers extended to the Cuscatlán Battalion additional survival training and cultural exposure, the battalion offered USSF more flexibility in accomplishing missions.

As a third-world country, El Salvador is limited in training resources and equipment, said Lt. Col. Ernesto Monterrosa, an officer in the Cuscatlán Battalion. When we arrived in country, USSF approached us and offered a helping hand.

Some of the areas in which USSF trained the battalion included applying combat-lifesaver skills, operating communications equipment, weapons familiarization and humvee drivers training.

“We did not expect their sacrifice and support toward us and our mission,” Monterrosa said. “Our Soldiers had some experience, but the training here improved our knowledge and helped us accomplish the mission in the best way possible.”

USSF also employed their cultural familiarization training to enlighten the Cuscatlán Soldiers and ease their acclimation to Iraq.

“They (USSF) are the cultural experts in the areas of Muslim customs and the Arabic language – they made our job a lot easier,” Monterrosa said. “We have Arabic interpreters, but locals felt more comfortable with us when we could say a few phrases in their native language.”

Soon, El Salvador’s flag became a symbol of hope in Wasit Province, said a USSF Soldier. When people saw their humvees approaching, they knew the Soldiers were coming to help.

“We want (the Iraqis) to remember us as friends because we can identify with their suffering …,” Monterrosa said. “El Salvadorians want them to be free, stronger and have all the rights we have.

As the longest standing Latin American country in Iraq, El Salvador’s reputation and tri-lingual interpreters, who spoke English, Spanish and Arabic, opened a door for USSF and Iraqis to interact in the community with ease, said a USSF Soldier.

“We started to take USSF and Iraqi Scouts with us to conduct humanitarian assistance missions so the community could see our good working relationship,” said Sandoval. “… In turn, locals started to feel more comfortable with the Americans and Iraqis.”

This give-and-take relationship led to the completion of 319 reconstruction and humanitarian projects, 21,000 patrols, 600 convoy escorts and more than 200 quick-reaction-force missions. In addition, the forces provided $7 million worth of healthcare supplies, and 11 projects worth $30 million in support of the Ministry of Defense.

Though El Salvador has officially withdrawn from Iraq, USSF will continue their working relationship with the team in Central America.
“The bond we have established (with USSF) is not only as brothers-in-arms, but as friends … brothers,” Monterrosa said.
 
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