SOTO CANO AIR BASE, Honduras –
Hundreds of first responders from Honduras, Guatemala, Nicaragua, El Salvador and the United States were in Honduras April 20-24 to participate in Fuerzas Aliadas Humanitarias, or Humanitarian Allied Forces, also known as FA-HUM 2009.
FA-HUM is a three-phase exercise designed to test and strengthen the reaction efforts of first responders when disasters strike here in Central America. More than 25 partner nations took part in this year's exercise, which included simulated natural disasters in four countries.
In Honduras, forces reacted to exercise scenarios representing massive flooding and a 6.2 magnitude earthquake. COPECO, Honduras' contingency response commission, requested support through U.S. Southern Command, which employed the resources of Joint Task Force-Bravo here.
"It's been such a disaster that Honduran capacity is exceeded," said Army Maj. Nilda Toro, JTF-B director of civil affairs, "so all the other countries are coming in to help." As the civil affairs liaison, Major Toro was responsible for coordinating the task force's participation in the various exercise scenarios.
"We are all here in a humanitarian effort," said Luis Alonzo Maldonado, COPECO national subcommissioner, as he welcomed partner nation participants. "We expect great success in working together."
Flying HH-60 Blackhawk and CH-47 Chinook helicopters, JTF-Bravo's 1st Battalion, 228th Aviation Regiment provided airlift between several locations for simulated victims and members of the media. The Medical Element, or MEDEL, conducted a two-day medical readiness training exercise in Siguatepeque, about 30 miles from the base, where they treated more than 650 patients.
One exercise scenario involved a simulated explosion at a civilian cement factory. The main objective was to respond to the hazardous materials incident but a secondary objective was to coordinate response efforts between local fire agencies and the company's private security team, said Lt. Manolo LaGuardia, a Honduran firefighter from Tegucigalpa and exercise inspector.
He was concerned with the time it took to conduct the HazMat operation but said he was pleased with the techniques demonstrated by responding crews.
"The more we practice scenarios like this," Lieutenant LaGuardia said, "the better we'll get. That's why it's important to participate in exercises like FA-HUM that incorporate so many different agencies. We learn to work together."
"It's always great working with the local response agencies," said Chief Warrant Officer 3 Jon Corey, a JTF-Bravo pilot who flew the mission transporting exercise casualties from the cement factory to a nearby hospital. "They're very savvy and have great intentions."
Phase 2 of the exercise concluded Friday. Phase 3 involves agency leaders meeting in St. Kitts to conduct a formal after action report and evaluate the various response efforts.