Nappanee man making a difference in jungles of Panama

METETI, Panama — Deep within one of the most pristine and untouched jungles in the world, where indigenous tribes scrape by with whatever the land around them provides, the son of a Nappanee man and an Elkhart woman is making a difference. In an area so remote only naturalists, botanists, and archeologists dare venture within its 10,000 square miles of raw wilderness, he is helping improve a quality of life for people living in conditions that most Americans will never see or experience.
Air Force Senior Airman Matthew H. Fischer, son of Terry Fischer of Nappanee, and Lori Fairchild of Elkhart, is part of an engineer team with the 820th Red Horse Squadron based out of Nellis Air Force Base, Nev. He is one of close to 250 service members in the remote region providing nation-building and humanitarian and medical assistance during an annual exercise called “New Horizons.”
Fischer is a pavements and equipment operator working to set up new schools in the region.
“I am doing foundation and concrete work here. I also deliver materials to the construction sites,” said Fischer, a 2002 graduate of NorthWood High School.
The military’s U.S. Southern Command, based in Miami, sends engineer and medical teams from units throughout the U.S. once a year to areas throughout Central and South America as a training platform that also helps provide invaluable infrastructure to impoverished areas.
Fischer and his teammates endure extreme heat, austere conditions and monsoon-like rains to help improve quality of life in the area, but feel that it’s well worth the effort.
“New Horizons gives the U.S. a chance to establish relationships with other countries,” said Fischer.
The experience is also a benefit to the service members involved, giving them a chance to use their skills and training they’ve received back home in a real-world setting that makes a tangible difference to the local regions they visit.
“I am getting a chance to perform my duties in a real world environment and learning about the things people in other career fields do,” said Fischer.
Because many of the selected locations are in some of the most remote and poverty-stricken areas of Latin America, Fischer and his teammates often find themselves in locations and conditions unlike anything they’ve ever experienced.
“Panama is a beautiful country and the people are friendly and welcoming,” said Fischer, who has completed four years of military service.
“New Horizons” is an exercise that has brought construction and medical help to impoverished regions throughout Central and South America and the Caribbean for more than a quarter of a century. The exercise has also provided service members like Fischer with experience in building schools, digging wells, constructing community centers and medical clinics, as well as providing medical care in a real-world setting that is cementing partnerships with those countries for decades to come.