TAMARA DROP ZONE, Honduras –
Sixteen students of the Honduran army's elite unit TESON parachuted from a CH-47 Chinook helicopter here Dec. 8, completing the final hurdle in their training.
TESON, which stands for Tropas Especiales para Operaciones de Selva y Nocturnas, is akin to the U.S. Army Rangers, according to Army Lt. Col. Gregory Jicha, commander of Joint Task Force-Bravo's Army Forces at Soto Cano Air Base, Honduras. The current class of TESON students started with 70 students trying out, 47 actually beginning the training, and only 17 graduating the course.
JTF-Bravo provided the drop zone setup, safety oversight, U.S. Army jumpmasters and the aircraft from the 1st Battalion, 228th Aviation Regiment.
"It gives our pilots flight hours, it gives our jumpmasters experience and allows them to keep their force ready and proficient," said Colonel Jicha. "(Besides), if I wasn't waking up at five o'clock on a Saturday to fall out of an airplane, I don't know what I would be doing," he joked.
The TESON students first observed both U.S. and Honduran military members jumping from the aircraft. Once the helicopter landed, the students filed on board and chanted motivating songs, stomping their feet as they approached the drop zone. In chocks of four, the students stood up, hooked in their static line, and jumped from the open ramp of the Chinook after a pat on the shoulder from the jumpmaster. Four passes later, all 16 of the jumpers were safely on the ground gathering their gear.
"They have a good time and they're really pumped," Colonel Jicha added. "A lot of them have jumped CH-47s before, but the types of aircraft we use is way beyond what they would get on a normal basis. A lot of times, if they don't jump with us, they may not get a lot of chances to jump."
On the ground watching the jump was Gen. Romeo Vasquez, the Chief of Staff of the Honduran army, who said the event was "excellente."
"We are very happy today because of the help that JTF-Bravo has given to us," the general said. "We are ending the toughest course in our army. We are grateful to your Army and your people."
After the jump, the students were met by a gathering of family, friends, and fellow soldiers who had come to congratulate them on their accomplishment. Colonel Jicha pinned U.S. Army paratrooper wings on each of the new TESON graduates, and each was presented with a certificate of accomplishment by Army Col. Marcus De Oliveira, JTF-Bravo commander. The students barked a loud "TESON" followed by "HOOAH" after shaking the hands of the U.S. Army commanders.
For Honduran TESON student 2nd Lt. Jaime Omar Guillen, this was his first jump from a Chinook, and an experience he'll likely never forget.
"This was very exciting because I have never done this before," he said. "If there is another opportunity, I'd like to do it again. Everything was great - the equipment and the security."
Completing the TESON course was very challenging, but well worth the effort according to the young lieutenant.
"It's been a long struggle from the first day," he said of TESON. "It's been very hard, but ... you have to be very clear of what one wants."
JTF-Bravo routinely conducts airborne operations with Central American countries, providing training and cross-culture communication between the U.S. and its allies.