BATSUB, the British Army Training Support Unit is pulling out of Belize. And while the loss of jobs and business will be a huge hit to an already struggling economy, the loss of helicopter air support will be equally consequential. The British helicopters are used for emergency night-time medical evacuation and for getting BDF soldiers into remote locations with greatest ease.
Those remote locations include the observation posts along the border - the most remote of which is Rio Blanco - a critical position at around the halfway point of the western border, in the area known as the middle divide.
Right now, without helicopter support, it's a torturous two day hike through the most untamed areas of the Chiquibul to get there. Soldiers - who have to carry provisions for two weeks - take about two days of hiking to get there.
But now, the British have donated a substitute means of transportation; it's not a helicopter but it is a fleet of six heavy duty All- terrain vehicles.
At the handing over today at Price Barracks, the British High Commissioner emphasized that his government is still committed to Belize's security:
H.E. Pat Ashworth, British High Commissioner
"The first thing to say that it's a temporary downsizing. when we had the assistant chief of defence, he describe that he was turning down the volume. So is a temporary turning down the volume of our training. As you know these are tough economic times for everybody. We also underwent a strategic defence review in the UK and it was then agree that we put all our efforts into Afghanistan and so everything we do have got Afghanistan in mind, so at the moment all our training is going towards that. One that is over, once we downsize our presence in Afghanistan, we hope once again that BATSUB would be able to pick up size, but we still have that commitment to Belize. We are still leaving some UK soldiers here and there will still be a sizeable contingent of Belizean staff to keep this place running until we need to upscale it again."
Lt. Col. Rob Lindsay, Commander BATSUB
"This donation is from the British Ministry of Defence and it's in a large part because of the reduction and removal of helicopters. These vehicles will be used by the BDF as they see fair but in essence there are really there to allow them to get to the more inaccessible areas of Belize where currently only our helicopters are able to assist them. So in particular to the more isolated observation bases."
Brigadier General Dario Tapia, Commander, BDF
"When we thought that everything was lost with loss of the helicopters - we thought how are we going to get to our soldiers to these remote locations and so brainstorm it and the British army told us that they might have some funds available to help us in any way that they can and so after brainstorming we finally realize that one of the better ways to get there without getting in major roads improvements which would have cost a significant amount of money, we thought that we can traverse trails and maybe clean it up a bit and then have something to traverse these trails and so the concept of
the ATVs was develop and sold the idea to the British and they eventually bought these. So essentially the ATVs would be able to take us in a matter of hours - what would take days by foot. Certainly we can't replace the minutes by helicopter but it is a significant reduction in time if we go by foot."
The new fleet will commence operation immediately.