SOTO CANO AIR BASE, Honduras –
Drivers on the highway near Tegucigalpa were treated to an unusual sight April 24 as 138 paratroopers from 17 countries descended from clear blue skies to the ground at Tamara Drop Zone, the home of the Honduran airborne school.
The paratroopers were part of an annual airborne operation hosted by the U.S. Joint Task Force-Bravo, known as Iguana Voladora, which means "the flying iguana" in Spanish. The airborne exercise is the task force's largest joint and combined training event and was developed to strengthen regional cooperation and security between countries of the Americas.
Iguana Voladora 2008 was the largest in history with Argentina, Belize, Bolivia, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, the Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico, Nicaragua, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, Uruguay and the United States participating.
"It is the cooperation and teamwork in joint training exercises like Iguana Voladora that strengthen our relationship with other nations' militaries and enable us to work smoothly together," said Army Lt. Col. Gregory Jicha, the airborne commander. "Together these Soldiers and Airmen represent the pride of the Americas - North, Central and South - and the expertise of well-trained paratroopers."
The three-day event began April 22 with briefings and training to prepare the paratroopers for the following day's jump.
"Safety is paramount in any airborne operation and even more critical in an operation in which the soldiers haven't had the opportunity to operate together before," said Army Maj. Michael Angell, head jumpmaster for the event. "We spent a lot of time on preparation to ensure the jump would happen safely and successfully."
On jump day, participants boarded two CH-47 Chinook helicopters from JTF-Bravo, hooked their static lines up and jumped out 1,250 feet above solid Honduran ground. Less than three hours after the first jumper left the aircraft, all 138 jumpers were on the ground safely.
"There is great tradition in this operation and all participants are brothers in the occupation of paracaidista (airborne)," said Honduran Capt. Mariano Dias, a first-time Iguana Voladora participant.
"When we get together as professional associates we get to know each other, which benefits all participating nations' militaries by allowing us to reach out to each other and rely on the friendships we developed here," Captain Dias said.
After the jump, the Honduran airborne school's officials invited the participants to a reception and ceremonial release of the operation's namesake - live iguanas. In the evening, JTF-Bravo welcomed the paratroopers back to Soto Cano Air Base for a banquet and wing exchange.
The day after the jump, JTF-Bravo hosted multiple demonstrations for visiting nations to further understand the task force's capabilities.
"We're a key presence in Central America for disaster relief and humanitarian assistance," Colonel Jicha said. "It's an excellent opportunity to show some of our partner nations' militaries what we do and what we can do to help them."
"This was an amazing event," said Air Force Tech. Sgt. Jeff Scott, another first-time Iguana Voladora participant. "The jump went well, and I got to meet several other paratroopers. The language barrier made it hard for us to talk a lot, but when you're standing in the aircraft waiting to exit, the airborne language is universal."
The multinational airborne operation has been hosted by JTF-Bravo annually since 1997. The operation was first known as "General Francisco Morazan" and "Fuerzas Unitas" before being renamed Iguana Voladora in 2002.