POPTUN, Guatemala — Roughly a thousand years ago, the Mayan civilization thrived as they developed advances in writing, architecture, mathematical and astronomical studies throughout the Central American isthmus.
Within Central America, Guatemala is considered to be the heart of the Mayan world. The nation is the most populous of the Central American countries, and it is a popular travel destination for millions of people all over the world who want to visit and experience the beauty of the Mayan culture.
However, Guatemala’s excessive crime and murder rates rank among the highest in the world and could threaten the nation’s growing tourism industry.
According to a 2012 report from the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, transnational organized crime in Guatemala comes at a price and is usually in the form of violence.
In the report, thousands of Guatemalans were asked what was the most important issue facing their country. It was no surprise that the public opinion poll in the report noted that crime beat out unemployment by a margin of 5-to-1.
It is a concern that Guatemalan government officials are facing head on with some of its most elite warriors known as the “Kaibils,” Guatemala’s Special Operations Force.
With illicit activities such as drug trafficking within its borders, Kaibils assigned to the “Grupo Especial de Interdicción y Rescate,” or GEIR, train daily to defeat organized crime and ever-changing threats. The GEIR is considered to be Guatemala’s top fighting force.
“In any country there is always a threat that endangers lives and property on a daily basis,” said a Guatemalan colonel assigned to the GEIR, who for security reasons spoke with anonymity. “The threat [in Guatemala] is real — and organized crime like the cartels, terrorists or whatever it may be, endangers the people of our country.”
The GEIR is charged to neutralize, prevent, and act against any narcoterrorism threat in the country. With support from “Green Berets” assigned to the 7th SF Group, the mission of the GEIR is simple: Keep Guatemala safe for its people.
“With the training and support we receive from the U.S. Soldiers, we continue to hone our techniques to counter narcotics trafficking,” said the colonel. “As soldiers, we need to be united against those who threaten our livelihoods, and only by being united can we overcome the enemy and defend innocent lives so they may prosper.”
Members of 7th Group are under the operational of Special Operations Command South, in Homestead, Fla., which is responsible for all special operations in the Caribbean, Central and South America in support of U.S. Southern Command. SOCSOUTH assists partner nations through training exchanges enabled by its theater security cooperation program.
Training programs, such as the one in Guatemala, empowers nations to train together in an ongoing effort to better protect national borders and increase the host nation’s capacity to conduct special operations.
“The Kaibils are a very professional organization, and those selected for the GEIR are made up of a seasoned group of soldiers,” said a U.S. Army SF medic assigned to the 7th SFG, who works daily with the GEIR. “They welcome us and know we are here to help.”
No matter where they are stationed around the world, helping build military capacity and working with partner nation counterparts to deter security threats is something U.S. SF Soldiers do best. The mission in Guatemala isn't any different.
“By facilitating training and developing their subordinate leaders to work with their officers, we can enhance their abilities. Based on what we’ve seen here, the noncommissioned officers are completely capable of running their own training. It has almost become second nature to them,” he added.
For the GEIR colonel and his men, who are considered to be the first responders to handle counter narcotics trafficking operations, training makes the difference between life and death.
“Training is extremely important and it needs to be constant,” said the colonel. “We have a saying here: ‘it is better to have sweat hundreds of drops of water than to have bled one drop of blood,” emphasizing how vital the training is for a quick reaction force unit like the GEIR.
On this day, the training is geared toward accuracy during a pistol marksmanship event.
As 7th SFG members look on from 50 meters away, the Kaibil’s noncommissioned officers line up their troops as they yell: “Si avanzo...sígueme, Si me detengo...Apremiame, Si retrocedo…mátame. Kaibil!” The Kaibil motto meaning: “If I advance, follow me. If I stop, urge me on. If I retreat, kill me. Kaibil!”
Admiring the quickness and effectiveness of the Guatemalan special forces soldiers, the Americans look on as the GEIR NCOs carry out the training.
“They're all motivated and very capable,” said a 7th SF Group communications NCO. “That’s the reason they're here — they're grueling [and their effort pays off] in everything they do.”
Training is around-the-clock. With so many missions, the unit requires constant mentoring and support to perfect their craft. The U.S. SF Operational Detachment Alpha, or ODA, team here provides the GEIR with mentorship on all aspects of military operations.
“Training them on operational processes and logistical training is one of the biggest objectives we concentrate on,” said the SF medic.
Additionally, the ODA team is regularly working with GEIR members in close quarters combat, weapons familiarization, sniper techniques, medical care, and communications just to name a few — but always focused on developing small group leaders because the Kaibil’s mettle is tested daily.
“The only time we interrupt training is when we are called to do our job,” said the colonel.
“As Kaibils, we are always ready. For any mission, under any circumstances, day or night we stand disciplined and willing to follow the orders of our commanders for the well-being of the Guatemalan people.”
The Kaibils, who are based in the “Brigada de Fuerzas Especiales Kaibil” here, are either constantly engaged in training events or being ordered to help protect civilian lives due to their expertise in interdiction and rescue operations.
“I am proud of our soldiers and what they do to better our country,” he said. “The enemy should know that there is always a Kaibil standing by and willing to conserve the peace so that we may better our country, and our people can have a fruitful life.”