SOTO CANO AIR BASE, Honduras –
Firefighters from Joint Task Force - Bravo's 612th Air Base Squadron along with 39 firefighters throughout Central America trained together during a Central America Sharing Mutual Operational Knowledge and Experiences exercise April 20 - 24, 2015, at Soto Cano Air Base, Honduras.
The exercise, also known as CENTAM SMOKE, included participants from six of the seven Central American countries as well as U.S. forces working together to build partnerships by training on a wide range of subjects, to include: mobile aircraft fires, car and helicopter burns, medical instruction, structural burns and UH-60 Blackhawk and CH-47 Chinook familiarization training.
"CENTAM SMOKE is a unique opportunity to bring in professionals of a noble calling to promote regional cooperation, enhance readiness and build teamwork in preparation to battle a shared enemy called Fire," said U.S. Army Col. Kirk Dorr, JTF-B commander, during the exercise's opening ceremony.
Exercises like this one reflect U.S. Southern Command's commitment to building partner nation security capacity, which enables USSOUTHCOM and its neighbors to better respond to shared challenges, like those posed by fire and other natural disasters. For the exercise participants, "partnership" was more than just a guiding principle but a lived reality.
Lt. Gabriel Delgado, stationed at Juan Santa Maria Airport, Costa Rica, experienced the benefits of teamwork and partnership firsthand during CENTAM SMOKE.
"I felt there were no barriers during the exercise," said Delgado. "Here we were able to practice not only with different types of equipment, but we also learned from the other people. We learned something new every day, such as techniques and how to build camaraderie. Everybody tried to do their best."
Participants practiced a wide range of skills during their week at Soto Cano Air Base, some of which they had never trained on before.
Sgt. Valeska Gomez, a firefighting instructor at the Firefighting School of Managua, Nicaragua, explained how vital the skills she learned were and what it meant for her to take them back to the school.
"I strengthened what I knew and the skills that I have, but the aircraft training was completely new to me," said Gomez. "I was glad to learn about the aviation fires. It was something that I will be able to take back to our fire squad and show everyone. It is important to use this multiplying effect, but be able to apply the concept to the resources we have."
Gomez was also the first female participant in the CENTAM SMOKE exercise. Although she was the only female, she explained that she was treated equally with her peers.
"I had no idea that I was the first female participant when I got here," said Gomez. "Honestly, though, when I am wearing the protective gear, you can't tell if I'm a man or a woman. Everyone is the same."
While participants faced many obstacles, to include language barriers, the firefighter mentality brought them all together. Through one commonality, seven different countries built partnerships and learned to work together.
"It doesn't matter where you're from," said Master Sgt. Todd Rains, the 612th ABS assistant chief of training. "We are all firefighters and that's where we find that common ground."