CURACAO â€” The pint-sized island of Curacao, located just off the coast of Venezuela, serves as host to a mighty mission taken on by U.S. Southern Command.
The Key West, Fla.-based Joint Interagency Task Force South is the National Task Force that serves as the catalyst for integrated and synchronized interagency counter-illicit trafficking operations, and is responsible for the detection and monitoring of suspect air and maritime drug activity in the Caribbean Sea, Gulf of Mexico, and the eastern Pacific.
The 912th Air Refueling Squadron, March Air Reserve Base, has personnel who initially deployed solely in support of the real-world mission to monitor areas with a history of illicit trafficking, but after arrival, an additional mission captured their interest.
As with all U.S. personnel involved in overseas contingencies, their stay is usually temporary, so an essential component to the overall mission is the forging of relations with the local community. While operating out of Curacao, the U.S. personnel partnered with local charity organizations to improve the quality of life for less fortunate residents of the island paradise.
â€œWhen we arrived, we were informed that there were plenty of volunteer opportunities to help foster the relationship between U.S. Forces and the local community,â€ said Capt. Josh Chambers, pilot, 912th Air Refueling Squadron, March ARB. â€œWe all understood that any assistance given would be on a volunteer basis and could not interfere with our primary mission.â€
Topping the list of volunteer activities was a community outreach program called the Nos Welita. This non-profit venture involved building a new elderly home (the present one was uninhabitable), for the 40 would-be residents. Staff Sgt. Stephen King (no relation to the writer/producer), Chaplin assistant, served as caretaker and point of contact for the project. King provided background information on the project and briefed on what to expect while working hand-in-hand with the local residents.
At the onset of Team Marchâ€™s involvement, project managers ran into a few funding hurdles, which halted all progress on the housing project. This may have been a showstopper for most, but Team March members are very resourceful and not easily discouraged.
â€œWe were told that the project suffered a few set-backs with funding.â€ Chambers continued with, â€œSince we couldnâ€™t proceed, we looked for other odd jobs to keep us busy until the funding hurdles were cleared. Being a top priority, project managers quickly supplied us with the roofing materials that we needed. By the end of the day, we had it successfully mounted, and ready to provide cover for the unfinished house. Timing was great because a storm system was heading our way that would have surely damaged interior parts.â€
March members labored feverishly knowing that their rotation was limited to a few weeks, so their work ethic was to get it done, and get it done quickly. During some phases of the construction period, their efficiency was so great that they were left with nothing to do. Did they take a breather? Not a chance! Members took to cleaning up debris in the surrounding area.
Nearing the end of their rotation, March members expressed how happy they were that their contributions would make a safer and better place for the elderly residents of the Nos Weltia project.
â€œWe came here to support the mission, but left here with a greater sense of pride. Knowing that our volunteer efforts made such an impact makes it all worth it. We cannot wait to return to see how the project has come along. To some, it may not seem like a lot of effort, but to others it may mean the world,â€ said Chambers.
Contributor: Jale Wesley