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News | June 16, 2016

Coordination, support package key in Honduran-led counter-drug operation

By Staff Sgt. Siuta B. Ika Joint Task Force-Bravo Public Affairs

Nestled in the wilderness of Miskito Indian country near the southeastern border and enclosed on all sides by dense rain forest lies the remote Honduran military base of Mocorón where combined Honduran and Joint Task Force-Bravo members conducted the twentieth iteration of Operation CARAVANA throughout the Gracias a Dios department June 8 and 9.

CARAVANA is the name given to the recurring operation where the Honduran Armed Forces rotate personnel, with airlift support from Joint Task Force-Bravo, to outposts in the Gracias a Dios, Colón and Olancho departments to disrupt and deter illicit trafficking of drugs, weapons and money by Transnational Criminal Organizations.
The safe and effective movement of this amount of troops and supplies during operations conducted by two nations using three different types of rotary-wing and one fixed wing aircraft and hundreds of personnel, many of whom don't speak the same language, requires synergistic planning and coordination before missions. This coordination is crucial to minimizing or eliminating potential accidents that could occur during mission execution.

During a Honduran-led Rehearsal of Concept drill, which took place June 1, in the Santa Barbara district, aviators and planners from both nations discussed event details, planned outcomes and past successes. One Honduran official highlighted recent data showing a marked decrease of TCO freedom of maneuver in northeastern Honduras, attributing it to the continued presence of Honduran security and interdiction teams enabled by Operation CARAVANA.

This was the first time the Honduran military hosted and led a RoC drill for a combined CARAVANA mission, demonstrating an increase in effectiveness due to an expansion of Honduran assets and capabilities. However, this was not the first time they took the lead role during a CARAVANA operation as the previous iteration was conducted by the Honduran Armed Forces without U.S. assistance.
"This CARAVANA mission was very important for the Honduran military," said U.S. Air Force Capt. Eduardo Barajas, assistant JTF-Bravo Operations Director and lead project officer for this CARAVANA iteration. "This was the first time they hosted and led the RoC drill, which is awesome because they are taking more command over the operation in both planning and execution. Overall, our number one goal is to enable them to make each CARAVANA successful."

During CARAVANA's twentieth iteration, JTF-Bravo's 1st Battalion, 228th Aviation Regiment provided two UH-60 Black Hawks and two CH-47 Chinooks for the troop transport to augment the Honduran air force UH-1 Huey and L-410 Turbolet cargo aircraft capabilities. In the past, the Honduran military relied primarily on logistic ships to transport the personnel and supplies, making multiple stops throughout the coastal region before dropping off the troops and returning to home port. The whole process took more than a week, whereas transporting by helicopter takes only a few hours and allows access to even more remote areas.

The successful movement of Honduran troops to their outposts is the most visible part of this multi-layer operation. However, CARAVANA operations would not happen without the support and Tactical Air Command teams staged at Mocorón and Puerto Castilla - which consist of fuel technicians, mechanics, weather forecasters, communication specialists, medics and a medical evacuation crew.
U.S. Army Capt. Michael Haynes, the support package's officer in charge and the 1-228th AVN headquarters and headquarters company commander, said the support package also acts as a command and control element throughout the mission.

"Anything aviation-related we relay back to the crews, and we also relay information from the TAC up higher as well," Haynes said. "But really what makes (the support package) successful is the soldiers. If people don't want to be here and their head is in the wrong place then it's not good and it's going to be a lot harder to get things done. But, these service members came out here, worked hard, put in a lot of time and effort, and CARAVANAs wouldn't be as successful as they are without the willingness and all their hard work."

During the two days of JTF-Bravo airlift support to this iteration of the multi-day operation, more than 180 Honduran troops with 17,000 pounds of provisions passed through Mocorón as well as Puerto Castilla, where a Honduran naval facility is located on the northern coast of the country.

Since its initiation, CARAVANA has facilitated the movement of more than 5,000 troops and 225,000 pounds of cargo between remote locations in the eastern part of Honduras, giving the Honduran security teams the ability to quickly focus and adjust their forces against the ever-changing tactics TCOs use in the region.