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Taking the road less traveled

Army Staff Sgt. Shelley Croker leads a group of marchers across the comyagua valley on the second day of the two-day march from Tamara, Honduras. The march officially named "The Iguana Challenge" was a command directed volunteer march for members of Joint Task Force-Bravo and Honduran Military members. The 30-mile march took particpants over the mountains surrouding Soto Cano Air Base.

Army Staff Sgt. Shelley Croker leads a group of marchers across the comyagua valley on the second day of the two-day march from Tamara, Honduras. The march officially named "The Iguana Challenge" was a command directed volunteer march for members of Joint Task Force-Bravo and Honduran Military members. The 30-mile march took particpants over the mountains surrouding Soto Cano Air Base. U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Shaun Emery.

Air Force Staff Sgt. Enrique Castro, Joint Security Forces, tends to his feet  on the first day of the two-day march from Tamara, Honduras to Soto Cano Air Base. The march officially named "The Iguana Challenge" was a command directed volunteer march for members of Joint Task Force-Bravo and Honduran Military members. The 30-mile march took particpants over the mountains surrouding Soto Cano AB.

Air Force Staff Sgt. Enrique Castro, Joint Security Forces, tends to his feet on the first day of the two-day march from Tamara, Honduras to Soto Cano Air Base. The march officially named "The Iguana Challenge" was a command directed volunteer march for members of Joint Task Force-Bravo and Honduran Military members. The 30-mile march took particpants over the mountains surrouding Soto Cano AB. U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Shaun Emery.

Participants of Iguana Challenge 2007, a two-day march from Tamara, Honduras to Soto Cano Air Base, make their way through the Honduran countryside. The march was a command directed volunteer march for members of Joint Task Force-Bravo and Honduran Military members. The 30-mile march took particpants over the mountains surrouding Soto Cano AB. U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Shaun Emery.

Participants of Iguana Challenge 2007, a two-day march from Tamara, Honduras to Soto Cano Air Base, make their way through the Honduran countryside. The march was a command directed volunteer march for members of Joint Task Force-Bravo and Honduran Military members. The 30-mile march took particpants over the mountains surrouding Soto Cano AB. U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Shaun Emery.

SOTO CANO AIR BASE, Honduras -- Members of Joint Task Force-Bravo along with their Honduran military counterparts completed a two-day ruck-march from Tamara, Honduras to Soto Cano Air Base June 6-7.

The march stretched over 30 miles through the mountains surrounding the Comayagua valley and into the small villages surrounding the base.

Col. Christopher Hughes, Joint Task Force-Bravo commander saw the march as an opportunity to build camaraderie between the joint services stationed here and the Honduran military.

"The march was an opportunity for the people stationed here to challenge themselves," said Col. Hughes. "Completing the march was a big accomplishment for all those involved."

Three CH-47 Chinook helicopters transported the participants to the landing zone, which was no more than a cow pasture tucked away in the hills of Tamara. Six teams and two support vehicles, along with Honduran security, stepped off the first day.

Carrying ruck-sacks filled with water, extra clothing and meals ready to eat, the teams traversed a terrain of loose rocky paths, mud and solid rock.

The marchers climbed more than 2,000 feet the first day.

"The first day was a challenge," said Maj. James Nixon, J3 Transition Operations officer. "The hills we faced the first day were tough. But you had to keep putting one foot in front of the other and continue the climb."

For many participants, this was the first time they'd put their bodies through this kind of test.

"I'd participated in a few shorter marches the past few weeks," said Staff Sgt. Anthony Silva, Headquarters and Support Company member. "But they were nothing compared to this. The pain of the sore feet and muscles will heal but the memory will always remain. I would do it again if afforded the opportunity. It was a pleasure to march along side the host nation military. It gave us the opportunity to get to know them and foster esprit de corps."

In addition to the tenuous climb, Mother Nature decided to add another element to the march. As the rain poured down the first day, some participants donned ponchos while others pressed on.

"I guess that just comes with the territory during the rainy season," said Sergeant Silva. "Change your socks and keep going."

The rain would make an appearance again later that first day as the marchers descended down the other side of the mountains. But again, the marchers took it in stride.

That evening, as their fellow servicemembers on base lay comfortably in their hooches, the marchers did their best to navigate the rocky cow pasture they would call home for the night. Some had more interesting nights than others.

"As I walked up to the campsite, I heard people yelling 'cow,'" said Sgt. Pete Schaffer, HSC member. "I lifted my flashlight to see a cow running right toward me. Fortunately the light scared it off. The night could only get better after that."

The next morning, with roosters crowing and the sun rising from behind the mountains, the marchers rose from their resting places to begin the second leg of their journey. By covering four extra miles the night before, the group was down to the last 12 miles. This time there would be no climbing, just a march through the valley to the base.

"It was good to know that the hardest part was over, but on the second day even the molehills were mountains," said Private 1st Class Grant Vaught, Armed Forces News broadcaster.

Exhausted, the marchers made their way thought the Soto Cano AB gate. The last three-quarters of a mile would take them to the Oasis Lounge, where they had a chance to reflect on their accomplishments.

"For many people this may be the only opportunity to do something like this," said Sgt. 1st Class Greg Mullins, Transitions Operations non-commissioned officer-in-charge. "To be able to see the Honduran countryside is a once-in-lifetime experience. It was tough, but you had to get past that and finish the march."

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