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First Haitian students to graduate from Army school in 56 years

By BEN WRIGHT | The Columbus Ledger-Enquirer (Tribune News Service( | Published: March 16, 2017

For the first time in 56 years since the United States has provided training to Western Hemisphere countries, three Haitian Coast Guard medical personnel will graduate Thursday from the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation.

The school was called the U.S. Army Caribbean School in Panama in 1961 when Haitians last received training, said Lee Rials, a public affairs spokesman for the institute at Fort Benning. Over the years, the school evolved into the School of the Americas and moved to Fort Benning in 1984. The SOA closed its doors in 2000 and opened as the institute in 2001.

The Haitians are part of a graduation class that includes 132 students from six combined courses and 15 countries. The graduation ceremony is at 10 a.m. Thursday in the institute’s auditorium on Baltzell Avenue. In addition to the U.S. and Haiti, other countries represented include Belize, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, the Dominican Republic, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico, Panama, Paraguay, Peru and Uruguay.

The institute faced some challenges instructing the Haitians, because all classes at the school are taught in Spanish. “They don’t speak Spanish or English,” Rials said. “Their primary language is French Creole.”

Some Haitians speak Spanish, but Rials said none of the three students did. The instructor for the Medical Assistance Course found some French soldiers who speak Spanish on post to interpret instructions for the group.

“It took initiative and knowledge to get them through the course,” Rials said. “They got through the course and they graduate Thursday.”

The other five courses included the Joint Operations Course, UN Peacekeeping Operations Course, an Intelligence Analysis of International Operations Course, Small Unit Leader Course and Defense Resource Management and Logistics Course.

The guest speaker for the graduation is Chilean Army Col. Patricio Mericq, that nation’s military attache in Washington, D.C. Mericq has more than 30 years of service as an infantry officer, an aviator, a commander and instructor and UN peacekeeper.

Rials said the three students won’t be the last at Fort Benning. Upcoming, the institute has young Haitians scheduled for the Small Unit Leader course, he said. “They feel like they want to have courses with their neighbors here,” Rials said.

Haiti is one of the poorest countries in the hemisphere. The Caribbean country that shares the island of Hispaniola with the Dominican Republic has faced some tough times over the years. The country was devastated by an earthquake in January 2010.

“They had tough times for several years with the huge earthquake they had,” he said.

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©2017 the Columbus Ledger-Enquirer (Columbus, Ga.)
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