EL TALADRO, Comayagua —
More than 200 soldiers, airman and marines from Joint Task Force-Bravo and the Special Purpose Marine Air Ground Task Force - Southern Command participated in Chapel Hike 73 last Saturday, providing more than 5,000 pounds of donated food for the community of El Taladro in Comayagua, Honduras.
Chapel Hikes are part of the JTF-Bravo Chapel volunteer programs where personnel hike or walk to a neighbor community near Soto Cano to deliver donated food, supplies and necessary items allowing service members an opportunity to explore the region while giving back to the community.
The initiative for these hikes came from Herberth Gaekl, a Honduran firefighter at the JTF-Bravo 612th Fire Department, who participated in many outdoor activities near Soto Cano and encouraged personnel to join him and enjoy the Honduran country side while exercising and getting to know the community.
A JTF-Bravo chaplain accompanied him on his hikes and they began incorporating small scale donations that they could carry to the communities, as they were continuously joined by more service members, but it wasn’t until 2007 when they started receiving logistical support and Chapel Hikes became an official volunteer program.
“After it became official we started making better coordination,” said Gaekl. “We now go to the communities, speak to the leaders and ask if they would like to accept the donation. Then all volunteers contribute to come up with the donation together and share with the community.”
Relationships with the community
Chapel Hikes are about so much more than walking to a destination on a Saturday morning. They are about developing a relationship with the community and the country that service members deployed at Soto Cano temporarily call home. Every volunteer contributes, touching the lives of those who receive the donations all while developing spiritual resiliency.
Each volunteer carries one or two bags weighing approximately 20 pounds each and hand delivers them to a family representative in the community. Volunteers also bring soccer balls, provided by the Kick for Nick foundation, as well as piñatas to spend time playing with the children.
Carmen, one of the community leaders who helped identify the families in most need talked about her appreciation, saying that it is truly a blessing and remarkable humanitarian support for 259 families, not only from El Taladro but also from the smaller villages surrounding it.
On this particular hike, which is the largest one to date, Chaplain (Maj) Eric Wismar, JTF-Bravo command chaplain, said “It was great seeing everyone working together, walking together, talking together, making a difference together – it truly embodied our JTF-Bravo motto of “One Team, One Fight!” and it was great to witness and be a part of.”
Wismar also said that because they have done this so many times they are fortunately prepared to receive many people and are already in the planning process for the next venture.
“It’s about developing relationships and giving back to the community. We want to be a blessing for them at the same time that they are a blessing for us,” said Wismar. “Fostering security, ensuring stability and promoting prosperity in the region – that’s what we are all about as a task force.”