GUATEMALA CITY, Guatemala -- A Marine Corps detachment that partnered with Guatemala authorities to disrupt illicit trafficking left here Oct. 14 to return to the United States.
With four UH-1N “Huey” helicopters, the Marines of Detachment Martillo flew more than 250 detection and monitoring missions in support of Guatemalan law enforcement agencies and naval forces during the roughly two-month deployment.
The presence of the Huey’s flying over coastal waters affected activity along the sea lanes frequented by traffickers, said Col. Robert Rauenhorst, the Detachment Martillo officer-in-charge. “We saw an immediate impact in trafficking patterns along established routes after we started flying our helos,” said Rauenhorst.
Flying every mission with the Marines was a bilingual Guatemalan liaison officer who relayed information to the Guatemalan authorities responsible for conducting any interdictions and apprehensions on suspicious vessels.
“It takes effective partnerships like this one to stem the flow of trafficking,” said Rauenhorst.
Detachment Martillo, comprised of approximately 200 Marines from various units of the II Marine Expeditionary Force, was part of Operation Martillo, an ongoing multinational effort to disrupt illicit trafficking in coastal waters along the Central American isthmus, which was launched in January 2012. Joint Interagency Task Force South, a component of U.S. Southern Command, is leading U.S. military participation.
The decision to deploy the detachment of Marines was made after close consultation between the U.S. and Guatemalan governments.
‘Back to what we do’
For decades, the Marine Corps has supported engagement in Central and South America with the intent of building partnership capacity and improving interoperability.
In recent years, though, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have curtailed some of that engagement. The Marines of Detachment Martillo relished the opportunity to partner with Guatemalan authorities and strengthen ties in the region. “We’re getting back to what we do with partnership countries in this part of the world,” said Gunnery Sgt. Dana Neal, a radio chief with the detachment who has deployed to Iraq four times and once to Afghanistan.
Raining nearly every day of the deployment, the tropical conditions could not have been more different for Marines with operating experience in the Middle East.
“If you can get a ‘7-ton’ truck stuck in the mud… well, now that’s muddy,” said Neal of the challenges of wet weather. “It was buried in mud up to the axle.”
The Marines adapted quickly, said Neal, gaining valuable experience in maintaining both their equipment and personal hygiene in a tropical climate.
Using the Lightweight Water Purification System, the Marines provided their own drinking water for much of the deployment.
The billeting and chow were also different for those accustomed to garrison or forward operating bases in Iraq or Afghanistan.
“We were living out of a sea bag and eating chili every other day,” said Capt. Joe Weakley, a Huey pilot.
‘Hip pocket’ security cooperation
1st Lt. Eric Ducommun, a liaison officer for the detachment who worked closely with the Guatemalans, said the partnership went beyond flight operations.
Fluent in Spanish, Ducommun coordinated flight schedules for the Guatemalan liaison officers riding in the helicopters. But Ducommun also translated “hip pocket” classes led by Marines on such topics as basic water survival and combat lifesaving skills that will contribute to partnership capacity.
Furthermore, Detachment Martillo’s medical officer, Navy Lt. Chantal Afuh-LeFlore, conducted examinations for personnel at Retalhuleu Air Base, where the detachment was forward deployed.
Seeing more than 150 patients, Afuh-LeFlore and her team treated a slew of skin conditions from the tropical climate while checking the personnel for signs of more harmful diseases and ailments. The base medic assisted in these evaluations, learning advanced techniques in preventative medicine.
The Marines and their Guatemalan partners also took time out to hold friendly matches of soccer and whiffle ball.
“They destroyed us in soccer so we invited them to a game of whiffle ball to even the score,” said Ducommun.