SOTO CANO AIR BASE, Honduras –
One hundred and fifty-eight military and civilian members of Joint Task Force-Bravo and half a dozen volunteer firefighters from the local area hiked 7.4 miles roundtrip to deliver 3,000 pounds of food to 172 families of Montaña La Oki, a small village located in the mountains east of Comayagua, Honduras, during chapel hike 67, April 30, 2016. Members of the Soto Cano community donated $3,150 in order to purchase the food.
In addition to the ton-and-a-half of food, which was packed by volunteers into 150 bags containing 20 pounds apiece two nights prior to the trek, many hikers brought their own additional treats and toys to give to the dozens of children they met at the top of the mountain, which was 4,406 feet above sea level.
During the visit to Montaña La Oki, U.S. service members had the opportunity to watch local school children perform cultural dances, play soccer and hand out the bags of food to villagers as well as some Hondurans who traveled to the location on horseback from the surrounding mountains.
A limited number of individuals can attend each of these popular events due to transportation constraints, and there were more than 30 people on the waiting list to attend this hike.
"The support is absolutely overwhelming," said U.S. Army Sgt. Jessica Covello, JTF-Bravo chaplain assistant. "It's a great feeling that the religious support team can help close the gap and allow so many service members to connect with the community."
Covello explained that the chapel hikes have grown over the years, and that according to people who have been at Soto Cano for a long time there used to be only 15 people on average for these hikes.
"Now, we could easily get more than 200 signed up if space would allow," said Covello. "These hikes have to be planned more than eight weeks in advance to accommodate the large number of people who want to go."
In addition to food packing and conducting the actual event, Chapel Hikes require everything from transportation to joint U.S. and Honduran security teams to medical element support as well as a site survey team to assess safety, security and the difficulty of the hike based on terrain and distance. Additionally, coordination is done with other JTF-Bravo directorates, Non-Governmental Organizations and local leaders.
"JTF-Bravo Civil-Military Operations personnel play an important role in the site selection process for the Chapel Hikes by facilitating coordination meetings with the World Food Program in order to determine the towns in the most need," said U.S. Army Lt. Col. Carlos Moya, JTF-Bravo CMO director. "Once the WFP priorities are established, the CMO and chapel personnel coordinate with the local mayors and governors in determining the specific site for each event. Everything is planned, coordinated and executed through, by and with local officials every step of the way."
Chapel hikes have taken place since 2003, with the JTF-Bravo Chapel sponsoring an average of six every year. The hikes are designed to provide a practical way for JTF-Bravo members to engage and partner with local communities providing support to surrounding villages in need of food and supplies. For many of the volunteers, Chapel Hikes are more than just an opportunity to contribute to the JTF's mission objective of building relationships with the Hondurans, it's an opportunity to show compassion and kindness to others who are in need.
"Service members not only receive a physical workout, but also have the opportunity to improve their spiritual wellbeing by helping others," said U.S. Army Capt. Matthew Shaw, JTF-Bravo operations battle captain. "It's inspiring to see so many members of Soto Cano and the surrounding community eager to come together to help, creating an esprit de corps with every Chapel Hike that truly embodies JTF-Bravo's 'One Team - One Fight' motto."