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JTF-Bravo participates with Honduran agency in major disaster exercise

Army Staff Sgt. Sheldon Pajimola, NCOIC of the search and rescue assessment team, transfers equipment to a CH-47 Chinook helicopter prior to the team's deployment in support of the COPECO exercise July 24. The deployment helped show the Honduran Permanent Commission for Contingencies the capabilities JTF-Bravo can provide during a disaster. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. John Asselin)

Army Staff Sgt. Sheldon Pajimola, NCOIC of the search and rescue assessment team, transfers equipment to a CH-47 Chinook helicopter prior to the team's deployment in support of the COPECO exercise July 24. The deployment helped show the Honduran Permanent Commission for Contingencies the capabilities JTF-Bravo can provide during a disaster. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. John Asselin)

SOTO CANO AIR BASE, Honduras -- Personnel and equipment from Joint Task Force-Bravo participated in the Comisión Permanente de Contingencias (COPECO) annual exercise July 23-25. COPECO is the Honduran equivalent of the U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency. 

The exercise simulated a response to areas devastated by heavy rains, flooding and a hurricane arriving within 48 hours. 

The exercise started July 23 with a series of training events, according to Army Maj. Nilda Toro, JTF-Bravo director of civil military affairs. 

"The training involved explaining the process a country goes through to request assistance from JTF-Bravo," she said. "We also held a class on procedures with military operations on our helicopters. It will help in the future for preparing requests for assistance if they understand what information the pilots need." 

After the training, COPECO released a declaration of emergency and requested assistance from JTF-Bravo. That's when the wheels started spinning at Soto Cano Air Base. 

The morning of July 24, an assessment team deployed from Soto Cano to set up a tactical operations center. 

The team set up the TOC, a communications tent so they could get progress updates and feed them back to the operations center at Soto Cano, according to Army Maj. Harry Gonzalez, the operations officer during the exercise. 

"We take everything we need to run command and control from a forward location," he said. 

The assessment team also showed the COPECO participants what assets JTF-Bravo has to offer in an emergency, including the Automated Route Reconnaissance Kit - a system that collects and quickly distributes information relating to damage associated with a disaster, Maj. Toro said. 

"We also showed all three types of helicopters and had pilots for them [Honduran authorities] to talk with so they could better understand the capabilities we have," Maj. Toro said. 

The scenario also included a medical team responding to a remote area after the simulated hurricane hit the area. The 27-person team from JTF-Bravo's Medical Element responded to the village San Antonio de Canada in a remote area of the Santa Barbara department. Since the area is remote, and the residents rarely see medical professionals, the team used the opportunity to hold a medical readiness and training exercise, where they treated more than 700 real-world patients from the area. 

"For COPECO, this was a big training event," Maj. Toro said. "It helped them better understand our procedures to make it easier to request assistance and help us help them better. They were very happy - it was more than they expected."

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