Local News

Fort Bragg Soldiers Help Central Americans Rebuild Lives

Posted December 20, 1998 6:00 a.m. EST

— This week, many of us will be getting ready for Christmas. But in Central America, victims of Hurricane Mitch are still trying to rebuild their lives, and they are getting help from Fort Bragg soldiers.

When you see the kind of poverty and devastation like we saw in Central America, it makes you realize just how fortunate we are.

Fort Bragg soldiers in El Salvador, Nicaragua and Guatemala are learning this lesson first-hand. Their mission is emotionally challenging and rewarding.

"When you don't have that much, you have a lot more to lose," said one hurricane victim.

People who live in Puente Jiguapa, a remote village outside of San Salvador, know this all too well. Their village was flooded during Hurricane Mitch

"This is the first time in five years it happened. Water came all the way through here," explained hurricane victim Antonia Hernandez.

"Yes, to a certain extent the hurricane caused a lot of damage. A lot of people lost everything that they had, and they have not been able to recover," said hurricane victim Joana Luz Chevez.

Fort Bragg soldiers are doing what they can to help people recover. You only have to look into the big brown eyes of a hungry child to see the need. Soldiers are giving out clothing and food to villagers.

The people of this village had already seen plenty of hard times before Hurricane Mitch. But after the storm, some of them lost what little they had, and now they say any help from U.S. soldiers is a blessing.

"I feel very happy and am very grateful. We are very poor people and need as much help as we can get," said one victim.

"This country went through almost 12 years of civil war which finished in the 1990s. They try to up their standard of living, then they get hit by the hurricane. It didn't help very much," explained project coordinator SGM Edgardo Menjivar.

Menjivar coordinates the village visits. He's a U.S. soldier, but was born in El Salvador and feels strongly about helping his native country.

"It's great, I feel great, I can't express how I feel," said Menjivar.

"This is the first time a lot of these young men and women have really experienced poverty," said Col. Virgil Packett, Task Force Aguila Commander.

Packett, who is in charge of U.S. forces in El Salvador, Nicaragua and Guatemala, says this mission is both eye-opening and rewarding for soldiers.

"It makes you feel good about yourself, it makes you understand we have a great capability with our nation," explained Packett.

"I'm happy that I could help, but at the same time it's a real sad feeling. It almost brings tears to my eyes to see," said Specialist Dorian Jones, Fort Bragg soldier.

"It's a good feeling, it's hard to see this many people in need, but it's good to know I can help them," said Specialist Christopher Molinar, Fort Bragg soldier.

Soldiers say they would rather not be away from their families at this time of year, but they are proud to be taking part in this important humanitarian mission.