SOTO CANO AIR BASE, Honduras, –
More than 100 members of Joint Task Force-Bravo hiked three miles while carrying backpacks filled with food and supplies to the village of Ajuterique in the Department of Comayagua, Honduras, Dec. 14.
The Task Force members were participating in the 51st Joint Task Force-Bravo chapel hike. Chapel hikes are an ongoing Joint Task Force-Bravo outreach effort, during which service members deliver food and supplies to families in need.
"Chapel hikes are a long-standing tradition at Joint Task Force-Bravo," said U.S. Air Force Capt. Jeff McMillen, Joint Task Force-Bravo Chaplain. "It's a way for us to get out into the local community and show some good will."
According to McMillen, on a typical chapel hike, service members carry the packs of food, deliver them to the families, and then spend some time visiting before returning to base. However, chapel hike #51 was a bit different.
"We do a lot of volunteer activities, but they are always single items," said U.S. Army Col. Thomas Boccardi, Joint Task Force-Bravo Commander. "We do a single orphanage visit, or a single chapel hike, but his time, we wanted to come up with an event that combined things. Instead of just doing the hike, this time we hiked to the location, we gave the food and supplies to the families, and then we spent the rest of the time there working on the housing project. So it really was a triathlon of humanitarian efforts--hike it, give it, work it."
The Ajuterique Housing Project is a long-term humanitarian aid effort to provide housing for Honduran families in need. The work for the project, including the clearing and leveling of the ground, is done through manual labor.
After the hike up the hill to the village, the Task Force members delivered the food to the families then wasted no time getting to work on the housing project.
"Once we got up there, everyone grabbed a pickaxe, shovel, rake or wheelbarrow and started right in, moving dirt and breaking and hauling rocks," said U.S. Army Sgt. Maj. Thinh Huynh, Army Forces Battalion Sgt. Maj. "Your heart really swells with pride when you look out there and see our service members of different ranks and different branches of service all working together to help others in need. It's just awesome."
McMillen said despite the fact this chapel hike included the additional challenge of rather intense manual labor, there was a tremendous outpouring of support from Task Force members wanting to volunteer in the outreach effort.
"Our people are incredibly generous," said McMillen. "The sign-up sheet for this hike filled up almost immediately. In fact, the biggest problem we had was having to tell people no because we could only take so many on the hike. It was hard to do that, because so many people wanted to contribute. It's just incredible to see how many people are willing to give up an entire Saturday and expend all their energy to do something kind for others."
Boccardi said he believes the interest and support for these types of outreach efforts is growing, and that they serve as a tremendous way to strengthen the bond and trust among the members of Joint Task Force-Bravo.
"I used to always see the same group of people volunteering for these types of efforts," said Boccardi. "But lately, I am seeing more people volunteer and want to get involved. There is a spark there, and it's started to ignite. Contributing to something like this is addictive and infectious. It's doing the right thing, and sharing in a cause greater than yourself that serves to bond people together. We come together, we work on a project like this to help others, and it truly does build that bond and engender trust throughout the organization."