SOTO CANO AIR BASE, Honduras-- –
What began as way for Joint Task Force-Bravo's outdoor enthusiasts to see Honduras has grown into a monthly event in which hikers trek through the mountains delivering goods to villagers in Honduras.
More than 60 servicemembers participated in the most recent hike Feb. 2, carrying boxes of prepackaged meals, cornmeal, pasta and other dry goods and handing it off to local Honduran families along a three-mile stretch of mountainous terrain.
The hikes started in the fall of 2007 when an Air Force chaplain put together a series of hikes as a way for people to get in a day of exercise. After he found out the base had excess food, the hikers took it along and distributed it to people living along the rural roads and trails in the mountains surrounding Comayagua.
Carrying on that tradition is Air Force Chaplain (Capt.) Jeremy Bastian who said to see Army, Navy and Air Force members come together to remote villages, taking food to the Honduran people embodies the ideals of a joint task force venture.
"The tremendous outpouring of support for the chapel hikes is simply incredible," he said. "It's great to be able to help people overcome adversity from the outpouring of their heart."
Chaplain Bastian said the hikers distributed about 2,000 pounds of food during the hike.
"The food was bought with $500 from the tithes of the chapel community--these are not government funds, but money contributed from the pockets of the Joint Task Force-Bravo community," he said.
Chaplain Bastian said approximately one ton of "prepackaged" meals remain for future hikes.
One participating hiker said the event was an opportunity to get a first-hand look at local Honduran life, and also show the local people the United States military is more than just war fighters.
"I went as an ambassador and to give a little back to the community," said Air Force Master Sgt. Jim Christian, JTF-Bravo Medical Element unit supply superintendent.
Sergeant Christian said he feels blessed that he's had the opportunity to volunteer
and help the locals here in Honduras.
"The mothers and children would run up and swarm around us, and I was so glad to give the food and toys, but in hindsight, wished I had more to hand out," he said.
"Of my 18 years in the Air Force--and only 30 days into my 120 day stay here--I can honestly say this has been one of the most rewarding opportunities and all the JTF-Bravo troops express they are seeing the difference we all are making first hand," Sergeant Christian said.
Collectively throughout the series of hikes, more than 400 servicemembers traveled 41 miles to delivering more than 2.6 tons of food to approximately 2,200 people.
The hikes have proved so popular that they have now become a monthly "staple" event at Soto Cano Air Base.
"I'm already looking forward to next month's hike because it's such a rewarding feeling," said Navy Petty Officer 2nd Class Frank Johnson, JTF-Bravo commander's support staff.
"Taking a few days-worth of food to these people may seem like a small gesture, but it helps them out tremendously and it has a large impact on our relationships with them." he said.