SOUTHCOM EXERCISES--New Horizons 2005-Panama          [p.1 of 2]


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William H. Ormsbee, Jr.

(based on U.S. Army South fact sheet, American Embassy-Panama news releases, and Panamanian newspapers reporting)

May 25, 2005


For the second time since the 1999 departure of the last U.S. military troops from Panama,  U.S. military forces returned to Panama in February 2005, again to construct schools and communities centers and carry out field medical exercises in remote areas, this time in Los Santos Province on the Azuero Peninsula.  It occurred on the 21st anniversary of the first U.S. military engineering exercise involving National Guard and Reserve units conducted in Latin America -- in Panama's Veraguas Province on the western side of the same peninsula.  

Part of the U.S. Southern Command-sponsored series of humanitarian assistance  engineer and medical readiness training exercises conducted throughout Latin America and the Caribbean, this exercise was directed by the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, and planned, coordinated, and supervised by the Southern Command's Army component service, Army South based at Fort Sam Houston in San Antonio, Texas. 

The objectives of this exercise were the same as for this long-standing exercise program -- provide meaningful training for the U.S. forces in their specialties conducted in remote, austere areas of Latin America and the Caribbean in conjunction with host-nation military and/or civilian personnel while providing needed facilities and services to the communities involved, as well as demonstrating continued U.S. support for those countries.

The training included mobilization and deployment from the United States to Panama in several rotations, performance of humanitarian and civic assistance projects, and deployment back to the United States. New horizons exercises provide excellent opportunities for U.S. personnel to refine their engineering and medical skills while helping improve the quality of life for the people in Panama who need such assistance.

The first contingent of some 3,500 Reservists (of the Army, Air Force and Navy Reserves), representing a variety of specialties in their civilian careers, arrived in early February with their heavy engineer equipment and vehicles to kick off the exercise February 15 centered around Macaracas, in Los Santos Province.  They and follow-on Reservists also on two-weeks rotations constructed three 2-room schools with latrines (in Macaracas, Los Higos, and Boca de Quema) and three multi-purpose community centers (in Macaracas, Llano de Piedra, and La Mesa de Macaracas), as well as improving an existing school building.  At the same time, other military Reservists conducted basic medical and dental care with Panamanian medical personnel in remote areas of Los Santos Province. The 14-week exercise concluded May 15 with the departure of the last of the Reservists and their equipment.  A maximum of 450 Reservists were  in Panama at any one, working from a temporary camp site at La Mesa de Macaracas.  Among those participating in the initial rotation of the exercise in February was a group of 20 Seabees from Naval Mobile Construction Battalion (NMCB) 40 based at Port Hueneme, California.

(Left)  Off loading heavy engineer equipment in Colon, Panama  (Center)  Setting up temporary camp site at La Mesa de Macaracas.  [Photos from Southern Command website]  (Right)  Part of camp site at La Mesa.  [Photo by Allan Hawkins]

Panamanian government agencies supporting and participating in this combined exercise included personnel from the National System of Civil Defense Agency (SINAPROC) - - the lead Panamanian agency for coordinating the exercise locally, Ministry of Government of Justice, Ministry of Education, Ministry of Health, Ministry of Public Works, Ministry of Agricultural Development, National Air Service, and National Police, and personnel from provincial government agencies.

The total estimated cost of this exercise, excluding deployment and redeployment and the Reservists salaries, was $1,3314,000 (according to an Army South fact sheet) including:

$270,000 for construction of the three schools ($90,000 for each school),

$216,000 for construction of the three community centers ($72,000 for each one),

Contracts for transporting heavy engineer equipment, costs of construction materials, and costs of handling and disposing of waste material from the exercise. 


Building frames and sawing wood for three new schools and three new community centers in and near Macaracas, Los Santos. [Photos from Southern Command website]     (Right)  UH-60 Blackhawk helicopters and Hummer vehicles,  the main means of transporting the engineers, medical personnel and supplies involved in New Horizons 2005 engineer and medical exercise in the area of Macaracas, Los Santos.  [Photo by Allan Hawkins]

The exercise was inaugurated March 8 at La Mesa de Macaracas by Panamanian President Martin Torrijos and other Panamanian government officials and U.S. Ambassador to Panama Linda Watt. Music was provided by the 300th Army Band (Army Reserve) from Bell, California, which had earlier performed concerts for the public March 6 in Casco Viejo colonial section of Panama City and in Colon City.  

On April 4, Southern Command Commander in Chief Army General Bantz J. Craddock visited Panama to see first hand activities of the exercise, as done by most of his predecessors since 1984 throughout the region, and to discuss it and other U.S. humanitarian assistance projects with Panamanian Government officials.  According to a U.S. Embassy news release, Craddock  also discussed maritime and Panama Canal security and cooperation in the war against terrorism and drug trafficking in meetings with Panamanian President Martin Torrijos, First Vice President and Foreign Minister Samuel Lewis Navarro, Minister of Government and Justice Héctor Alemán, and Panama Canal Administrator Alberto Alemán Zubieta during his one-day visit to Panama. 


Army General Bantz J. Craddock (left), commander in chief of Miami-based U.S. Southern Command, talked to Army Reservists during his visit April 4 to Panama and the sites of this year's New Horizons engineer exercise in and around Macaracas, Los Santos Province.  Panamanian Minister of Government and Justice Héctor Alemán (center left) and Panamanian Ambassador to the United States Federico Humbert (center right) accompanied General Craddock on the site visits. [Photo by A.Cortes, La Prensa,  March 5, 2005; photo courtesy of La Prensa.] 


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