SOTO CANO AIR BASE, Honduras - , –
"Follow me!" yelled a 6-foot-tall U.S. Army Airborne Soldier, motioning with his arm to the Soldiers behind him. Eyes bright with excitement, the jump master turned and stepped out the back of a CH-47D Chinook helicopter as smoothly as if he were stepping off his own front porch.
One by one, four more Soldiers followed Sgt. 1st Class Raul Lopez out the door. Green parachutes billowed above them, leaving only their deployment bags and bright yellow static lines fluttering in the wind, still attached to the anchor line in the Chinook. Quickly, the helicopter's flight engineer gathered the bags and lines so a group of Honduran airborne soldiers could follow suit.
Twenty Honduran soldiers and six U.S. Army paratroopers conducted combined airborne operations training here Jan. 15. According to Army Lt. Col. Richard Somers, commander of U.S. Army Forces here, it's important to train with the unit's Honduran counterparts because those are the people they would conduct missions with throughout Central America.
"Here at Soto Cano we have a small airborne community," said Sergeant Lopez, the day's jumping jump master and a 20-year veteran with more than 100 jumps behind him. "We like to (work with) our Honduran counterparts because it gives us a different perspective to see how other countries do (what we do)."
The day's events began with sustained airborne training, a step-by-step walkthrough of jump procedures from equipment check through landing. Next soldiers were off to the platform to conduct parachute landing falls from a 2-foot-high structure behind the rigger shed.
Once the sustained training was complete, the Soldiers donned their chutes and received a thorough jump master performance inspection. Before each jump, every hook and cord is meticulously checked by hand to ensure the parachute is properly rigged on the Soldier and will operate with no malfunctions, said U.S. Army Forces 1st Sgt. Lloyd Broom, who was also the static jump master for the day.
Finally, all 26 soldiers loaded onto the aircraft and headed out. Honduran troops sat side-by-side with U.S. Army troops as each awaited their turn to jump.
At 1,250 feet in the air, the tandem-rotor Chinook made its first pass above the drop zone on the Soto Cano flightline. Sergeant Broom watched out the rear of the aircraft to ensure the area was clear. Turning and holding his thumb and forefinger close together, he indicated it was almost time to go.
Suddenly, a light near the back of the helicopter turned from red to green and Sergeant Broom gave the signal to go.
Colonel Somers, a paratrooper with 48 jumps to his credit, saw benefits to the day's activities beyond the operational and training mission.
"Every time I'm out here I feel like a Soldier," he said. "It makes me feel alive."