SOUTHCOM EXERCISES--New Horizons 2003-Panama          [p1 of 2]


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William H. Ormsbee, Jr.

(based on U.S. Army South fact sheet, U.S. Southern Command news release, American Embassy-Panama news releases, and Panamanian newspapers reporting; photos by the Exercise's Task Force Chiriqui photographers)

The first U.S. military exercise conducted in Panama since the 1999 ending of the long-standing U.S. military presence in that country (in keeping with the Panama Canal Treaty) was a New Horizons exercise in 2003 ( February 24 to May 15) in Chiriqui Province.

Following the termination of the Panama Canal Treaty Dec. 31, 1999, U.S. authorities tried unsuccessfully to negotiate with Panama a Visiting Forces Agreement similar to those in force with many other nations around the world that cover U.S. forces temporary deployments abroad. Later, with the approval of the Panamanian Government for a New Horizons exercise to be conducted in Panama, planning began in mid 2002.  The advance party and equipment began to arrive in January 2003.

Shortly after Army UH-60 Blackhawk helicopters arrived in Panama in January 2003 to support the exercise, they were pressed into unexpected emergency service at the request of the Panamanian government January 24 to ferry food, clothing, and other emergency supplies to a community of largely displaced persons in the province of Darien. Local authorities had estimated that some 1,000 persons in the area of Boca de Cupe in the southern region of the Darien have been displaced and without adequate food and shelter due to the armed incursion of rebel elements from nearby Colombia a few days earlier.  Two Blackhawk helicopters made six delivery runs between Yaviza in the Darien (where Panama’s civil defense agency, SINAPROC, has been collecting emergency-relief supplies) and Boca de Cupe, ferrying a total of 16,000 pounds of provisions. In addition to food and clothing, medication, blankets, tents, and backpacks were among other emergency supplies delivered.

The first rotation of the joint Task Force, dubbed Task Force Chiriqui, composed of  Army National Guard and Reserve personnel (principally from Ohio and New Jersey Army National Guard units) arrived to construct three schools and three medical clinics in the Ngobé-Buglé Indian Comarca in Chiriqui and conduct medical readiness training exercises in the same general area. 

Camp Amistad (Friendship), temporary base camp for the exercise near Las Lajas, Chiriqui.

Site of one of the schools constructed during the exercise.

Opening ceremonies for the exercise were held Feb. 27 at the Task Force's temporary base camp, Camp Amistad, near Las Lajas in Chiriqui.  The ceremony was attended by then Panamanian President Mireya Moscoso; U.S. Ambassador to Panama Linda Watt; General James Hill, then commander of U.S. Southern Command; Maj. Gen. Alfred Valenzuela, then commander of U.S. Army South; Col. Tony Thomas, then Joint Task Force Bravo commander; Lt. Col. Scott Evans, with the Ohio Army National Guard and Joint Task Force Chiriqui Commander for the exercise; and a host of American and Panamanian dignitaries.

While the military engineers with their Panamanian counterparts constructed three schools (at Quebrada Guabo, Las Lajas, and Quebrada Hacha) and three medical clinics (at Quebrada Hacha, Hato Juli, and Cerro Iglesia), military doctors, dentists and veterinarians and Panama's Ministry of Health medical personnel provided medical and dental care on two medical tours to residents in the areas of Boca del Soloy, Cerro Iglesia, Hato Pilan and Quebrada Guabo. The engineers also and repaired some roads and bridges in the areas of the projects.

National Guard and Reserve engineers laying foundation and erecting sidings of new school and medical clinics

A total of about 3,500 National Guard members from 21 states, most in six two-week rotations, participated in the exercise. About 400 Guard members were in Panama at any one time conducting the projects.


Site developed, owned and maintained by  

William H. Ormsbee, Jr.  2005



Known as:

- Minuteman (1984- 1985) in Veraguas Province, Panama

- Blazing Trails (1985 - 1986) in Panama and Honduras

- Fuertes Caminos / Strong Roads (1986 - 1995)

- Nuevos Horizontes / New Horizons  (1996 - present)


Panama (12 such major exercises)

- Six Central American Countries

- Six South American Countries

- 11 Caribbean Island Nations


Click here for history of  this exercise program


828 engineer construction and repair projects conducted in Panama 1984-1997 by  U.S. Military Forces (National Guard units, Reserve units, and active-duty units)