Three U.S. Soldiers have been recognized by the president of Guatemala in Puerto San Jose for their acts of brotherhood and friendship.
Guatemalan President Jimmy Morales presided over the ceremony at which Staff Sgt. Harcel Rosado, Sgt. 1st Class Michael Kinzie and Chief Warrant Officer 4 Raul Espinoza were awarded the prestigious Medalla Monja Blanca (Medal of the White Nun) by the Guatemalan armed forces.
The Soldiers are members of a technical assistance field team from the Fort Bragg-based U.S. Security Assistance Training Management Organization, a subordinate organization of the Security Assistance Command. Assigned to the TAFT in Guatemala, their mission was to train and advise the nation’s elite naval special forces in watercraft and communication tactics in support of their counter-narcotics operations.
Experts in their fields, the Soldiers have spent the last year working shoulder-to-shoulder with Guatemala’s maritime forces as they fight to interdict hundreds of tons of illicit drugs that flow from South America through the Central American corridor into Mexico and, ultimately, the United States.
The dedication and superior service of the Soldiers have had a decisive impact on the nation’s counter-narcotics operations, and it has not gone unnoticed by the nation’s leadership.
Guatemala’s naval special forces, the FEN, are integral to the war on drugs, “and that they would recognize our TAFTs’ contributions to the success, growth and professionalization of the FEN was a watershed moment,” said SATMO Command Sgt. Maj. Michael Lamkins, who attended the award ceremony.
Lamkins called the Guatemala TAFT unique, noting “it’s one of our longest standing and enduring relationships in the country. CW4 Espinoza, Sgt. 1st Class Kinzie and Staff Sgt. Rosado are examples of the high caliber SATMO Soldiers that take highly developed military skills sets, Army discipline and U.S. diplomacy to international partners all over the globe,” he said. “These Soldiers, like all of our TAFT members, become invested in the success of the nations they work with, and this is what separates people merely doing their job from those leading positive change in the world.”
Award recipient Rosado said he is humbled by the recognition, calling the mission the most rewarding of his career. As a watercraft operator, he is among a small pool of military mariners with the specialized skillset – “around 1,200 active duty personnel throughout the whole Army,” explained Rosado, who has spent seven and a half of his nine years in the Army at sea.
Rosado taught the Guatemalan troops watercraft maintenance and safety and was impressed by the professionalism and trust both nations shared.
“The units we advised, the boats we trained on, they are actually being used in counter-narcotics operations, so it’s a real-world mission. We taught; they adjusted, adapted and implemented much of what we shared,” Rosado said.
For Kinzie, the impact of the advise-and-assist role was evident immediately. During his tour, he used his signal expertise to increase the FEN’s commo capability from 75 nautical miles to 300 nautical miles. That means FEN troops can now identify and respond to drug traffickers hundreds of miles off the Guatemala coast.
“This shakes up the whole battlefield for narcos travelling along the coastline,” Kinzie said. “In the past, they only need to stay more than 75 miles off the coastline to avoid detection. Now, they have to go back to the drawing board, and relook their limited fuel capacity, need for resupply, (etc).”
Rosado called the people of Guatemala “such a humble people, always willing to go out of their way to make others comfortable, whatever it takes,” said Rosado, a Puerto Rico native who executed his training in Spanish. “Being able to train in a shared native language added a shared level of understanding. They were able to give clear feedback and I was able to listen to their concerns and understand the mentality.”
He called it a great honor to affect the course of a partner nation’s military, and said he experienced a lot of personal and professional growth during the yearlong assignment.
“One of things I learned about myself is that I love to teach,” he said.
Rosado is assigned to the NCO Academy at Fort Lee, Virginia, where he instructs the Army Leader Course. And while pleased with the new assignment and ready to tackle whatever the Army has for him next, he will never forget the once-in-a-lifetime SATMO mission.
“I hope we continue to spread the word about SATMO,” he said. “I would highly recommend it to fellow Soldiers, but they need to know that it takes a very responsible and professional individual. For such a (diplomatic) mission, you can’t just meet the high standard, you must exceed the standard. Because you’re not just representing SATMO, but the whole Army.”