NEWS | Aug. 30, 2010

CENTAM SMOKE fans flames of camaraderie

By Tech. Sgt. Benjamin Rojek Joint Task Force-Bravo Public Affairs

The 612th Air Base Squadron's fire department held the Central America Sharing Mutual Operational Knowledge and Experiences exercise here Aug. 23- 26.

Now in its fifth year, the firefighter training session allowed U.S. military firefighters to train and work alongside partner nation firefighters from Honduras and, for the first time, Guatemala.

"This is our first time having three nations of firefighters involved in the training," said Mr. Herberth Gaekel, a 612th ABS fire inspector, during his speech at the closing ceremony Aug. 26. "We have accomplished the 'One Team, One Fight' philosophy through four days of team-building exercises."

The course covered firefighter subjects including self-contained breathing apparatus training, first responder medical training, hot and cold medical evacuation patient loading, and aircraft and structural firefighting operations. Braving 1,000 degree fires in full bunker gear with Honduras' 90 degree temperatures already bearing down on them, the 30 firefighter classmates took away important skills that they could bring back to their respective countries.

Mr. Oscar Rodriguez, a firefighter from Guatemala, said the "perfect" training sessions helped him and his teammates hone necessary medical lifesaving skills, as well as learn how to better protect themselves. Although the training was exhausting at times, they left Soto Cano feeling more ready to help their country's citizens.

"I feel more confident, like 100 percent more confidence," Mr. Rodriguez said. "If there is a possibility to come back here and learn more, we will be here, man."

The enthusiasm of the Guatemalan firefighters was shared by the Hondurans, as well. In fact, working together with their geographical neighbors is an important step in better protecting Central America, said Gen. Carlos Cordero, the national Honduran fire chief.

"Working together as a team is better for us since our goal is the same: saving lives," General Cordero said. ""We hope that when we act together in a disaster, we are ready along with other firefighters in Central America. Believe me, with this training we will work better."

Assisting partner nations in Central America in enhancing the skills and capabilities of their first responders is a part of the Joint Task Force-Bravo mission, according to base leaders. From training firefighters to bringing health care to remote regions, working with local governments to provide necessary services for their people is a "win" for JTF-Bravo.