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Apr 26, 2000

Royal Engineers build research station in Toledo

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Last Thursday we ran a story on a new classroom which was constructed at Hattieville Prison by personnel from British Forces. But that project is only one of many being carried out by the Royal Engineers, exercises which keep the military sharp and provide real benefits to Belize. On Tuesday News Five’s Janelle Chanona visited a relatively remote work site and found the troops still busy, this time deep in the jungle.

Janelle Chanona, Reporting

Ordinarily, getting to the La Sierra Archaeological Field Station in the Toledo District means a 4-hour ride on a bumpy road but a British Forces helicopter makes the trip much quicker. Out of the blue of haze of the heat, the mountains that surround the station come into focus. This tiny valley might look like it’s in the middle of nowhere but apparently archaeologists from Cleveland State University thought it was the perfect site to build a large research station. Proper investigation of the nearby ancient Maya sites needed more than pup tents and so, for the past three years, Royal Engineers of the British Army, in cooperation with the university and Government of Belize have been building some very comfortable abodes.

2nd Lt. Steve Jones, Site Commander

“This is actually the third phase of work. The first two phases built the two accommodation blocks and a laboratory building. We’re planning to complete basically an ablution block and all the associated electrical and sort of water facilities. We’ve gotten as far as completing the water although unfortunately the funding didn’t come through so we’ve not actually wired in the electricity yet.”

Janelle Chanona

“Tell me what it’s been like working out here?”

2nd Lt. Steve Jones

“It’s been very good. I mean we don’t obviously enjoy some of the facilities that the rest of the squadron might get working in Belize City but the guys like very much working out the prying eyes of the rest of their buddies. It’s nice to relax a little bit more. It’s hard work, its hot an like I said, it’s not very nice facilities but we’ve got the benefit of a very good sort of troop atmosphere, doing a useful job. Everyone gets to use their trades that they’ve been trained to do. And at the end of it, you get a satisfactory feeling from completing and seeing a useful project being built.”

Most of these soldiers toured places like Kosovo and Saudi Arabia before to coming to work in Belize. Obviously those situations were very different but at least one man says it’s been an enjoyable experience.

Corporal Andy Copley

“I’ve thoroughly enjoyed it while I’ve been out here. It’s been quite hard work while living in the jungle but generally it’s been really good fun. I had a good time.”

Janelle Chanona

“What are your overall feelings about the work you are doing out here? How important do you think a project like this is?”

Corporal Andy Copley

“It’s actually really important what we are doing out here because it’s going to help the archaeologists going out, looking in the jungle and places like that. So yeah, it’s a very important job. Also for the community of Belize, actually creating work for the Belizeans as well.”

Usually, Royal Engineers aren’t construction workers. The British Army comes to Belize to use the jungles as a training ground. Commanding Officer Major Mark Sullivan says construction work in this climate is a test of stamina, an essential in real warfare.

Major Mark Sullivan, Commanding Officer

“As you can imagine, it’s quite an alien environment for British soldiers to come into. We don’t do an intensive jungle training package like our infantry sort of peers, who are working in the jungle for up to six weeks so as an environment it’s a task to survive initially. To have 40 people in the jungle, in this clearing, in and around the Maya mountains is a challenge in itself. But on top of that, the task of building a shed, a large sort of shed and ablution block to house future scientists adds a lot of difficulties to a job in the jungle.”

Surviving life in the jungle has been made easier with the help of locals from the village of Medina Bank. Sullivan says their contribution has been greatly appreciated.

Major Mark Sullivan

“The villagers have really become part of the cooperative here. They look after the site while the engineers are not here and while Peter Dunham is not actually on site doing his research. They’ve been a great help to us; they’ve provided us with labour on site, giving us lots of knowledge on our environment and given us the tricks of the trade in and around the village.”

In early May, the British Army will hand over the compound to the Government of Belize and the archaeologists will settle in. By then, the royal engineers say they hope to have completed two missions: getting the field station in order and, with images like these, recruit a few more hands.

Janelle Chanona for News Five.

While the British Army is responsible for manpower and equipment, funding for materials and other necessities was provided by the Government of Belize and Cleveland State University.

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