SOTO CANO AIR BASE, Honduras –
Flying low through the mountains and over the plains of Honduras, it's easy for one to get lost in the emerald beauty as it slips by without a thought as to the conflicts that lay below.
During the thirteenth iteration of Operation CARAVANA, a U.S. support operation to the Honduran military, Joint Task Force-Bravo members reflected on this scene as they provided airlift support for over 300 Honduran military members transitioning to and from forward operating posts in the Gracias a Dios department (state) of Honduras.
The operation began in October 2014 as a coordinated effort between the U.S. Embassy and the Honduran Air Force to provide freedom of movement to the Honduran military in isolated areas in the Gracias a Dios, Colon and Olancho departments (states). It continues to the present day under its original intent of aiding Honduras in its battle against drug trafficking and criminal activity related to those activities.
The first day of the two-day mission, aircrew and ground support members moved troops in and out of Puerto Castilla, a small Honduran military facility on the northern coast of the country. All around were young Honduran soldiers loaded with bedding, ruck sacks and other supplies for their rotation to the field.
To provide an open line of communication between the JTF-Bravo members and Honduran troops, Honduran Liaison Officer Lt. Col. Giron oversaw the ground coordination for the troops and stayed in direct contact with the JTF-Bravo tactical officer in charge.
"We have to do the reliefs by aircraft due to how inaccessible the area is, and the troops must bring their provisions with them," said Giron. "So the success is all in the planning. For example, when the helicopters load their gas, since their tanks are full they can carry less weight, so we have to talk and plan so during the first trip, the troops carry only a small amount of provisions and during the second round they will have less weight, less gas, and they will be able to carry more."
As the first waves of troops loaded into the UH-60s, the excitement on the base built, and the U.S. and Honduran military members hastily but dutifully fell into an order of loading people and cargo. By the time the first helicopters were off the ground, the next group was lining up to depart.
The first round of Hondurans to return to Puerto Castilla brought more than excited faces; they also arrived with valuable experience to help build on the Honduran efforts in the region to disrupt the flow of drugs.
As the troop movement mission progressed into its second day and at another Honduran base the flow improved. Though the second base was even more remote than Puerto Castilla, the process for loading and unloading soldiers seemed effortless.
A key contribution to the success of the mission was the integration of U.S. Army Soldiers who were Spanish speakers. With personnel on hand who could speak their native language, the Honduran soldiers responded well to direction around the helicopters and were quickly lined up for transport.
"We were able to carry out this operation in [Gracias a Dios], with the task force's helicopter support," said Giron. "The operation went well because we had no inconveniences. Weather conditions affected us a bit, but we were able to carry on with the mission."
The CARAVANA missions started at the request of the Honduran government to the U.S., and according to Giron.
During the operation, he explained how the Honduran troops supporting the mission recognize the importance of their actions. "[They know the] drug trafficking [organizations] can't operate as freely as they did before due to a stronger military presence in the area, so having the troops in those places is worth it."
The operation highlights a continued support from U.S. Southern Command forces in Honduras to help counter the trafficking of drugs, weapons, money and people through the region.