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Iguana Voladora brings US, Central, South American paratroopers together

TAMARA DROP ZONE, Honduras – A Central American paratrooper gives a “thumbs up” as he waits in line prior to boarding a CH-47 Chinook helicopter for an airborne operation here. Joint Task Force-Bravo hosted Iguana Voladora, an annual paratrooper exercise, April 29 through May 4 and hosted more than 50 paratroopers from Central and South America for the week.   (U.S. Air Force photo/Tech. Sgt. Sonny Cohrs)

TAMARA DROP ZONE, Honduras – A Central American paratrooper gives a “thumbs up” as he waits in line prior to boarding a CH-47 Chinook helicopter for an airborne operation here. Joint Task Force-Bravo hosted Iguana Voladora, an annual paratrooper exercise, April 29 through May 4 and hosted more than 50 paratroopers from Central and South America for the week. (U.S. Air Force photo/Tech. Sgt. Sonny Cohrs)

TAMARA DROP ZONE, Honduras – Central and South American paratroopers board a CH-47 Chinook helicopter for an airborne operation here. Joint Task Force-Bravo hosted Iguana Voladora, an annual paratrooper exercise, April 29 through May 4 and hosted more than 50 paratroopers from Central and South America for the week.   (U.S. Air Force photo/Tech. Sgt. Sonny Cohrs)

TAMARA DROP ZONE, Honduras – Central and South American paratroopers board a CH-47 Chinook helicopter for an airborne operation here. Joint Task Force-Bravo hosted Iguana Voladora, an annual paratrooper exercise, April 29 through May 4 and hosted more than 50 paratroopers from Central and South America for the week. (U.S. Air Force photo/Tech. Sgt. Sonny Cohrs)

TAMARA DROP ZONE, Honduras – Paratroopers land on the drop zone during Iguana Voladora, an annual exercise that includes military members from across Central and South America.  Joint Task Force-Bravo hosted Iguana Voladora, an annual paratrooper exercise, April 29 through May 4 and hosted more than 50 paratroopers from Central and South America for the week.   (U.S. Air Force photo/Tech. Sgt. Sonny Cohrs)

TAMARA DROP ZONE, Honduras – Paratroopers land on the drop zone during Iguana Voladora, an annual exercise that includes military members from across Central and South America. Joint Task Force-Bravo hosted Iguana Voladora, an annual paratrooper exercise, April 29 through May 4 and hosted more than 50 paratroopers from Central and South America for the week. (U.S. Air Force photo/Tech. Sgt. Sonny Cohrs)

TAMARA DROP ZONE, Honduras – Participants from Iguana Voladora hold iguanas during the closing ceremony for the airborne operations. Each country released an iguana onto the drop zone, a tradition that has continued each year of Iguana Voladora, signifying the end of the exercise.  (U.S. Air Force photo/Tech. Sgt. Sonny Cohrs)

TAMARA DROP ZONE, Honduras – Participants from Iguana Voladora hold iguanas during the closing ceremony for the airborne operations. Each country released an iguana onto the drop zone, a tradition that has continued each year of Iguana Voladora, signifying the end of the exercise. (U.S. Air Force photo/Tech. Sgt. Sonny Cohrs)

SOTO CANO AIR BASE, Honduras -- The annual airborne exercise Iguana Voladora was held here April 29 through May 4 and involved paratroopers from Central and South America. 

The countries participating this year were: Argentina, Belize, Bolivia, Chile, Costa Rica, Ecuador, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, México, Nicaragua, Panamá, Paraguay, Uruguay and the United States. 

The airborne operation took place at Tamara Drop Zone, near the capital city of Tegucigalpa, Honduras, with more than 50 paratroopers jumping from a CH-47 Chinook. U.S. Southern Command sponsors Iguana Voladora, delegating controlling authority to Joint Task Force-Bravo, with the effort led by Army Forces. 

Army Sgt. 1st Class Jose Mortenson, J-3 Plans and Operations, was the primary jumpmaster for Iguana Voladora. 

"Overall, it was a good safe operation. There were no problems whatsoever and no injuries," Sergeant Mortenson said, adding that an operation of this magnitude typically has a few small injuries. 

"After they exited the aircraft, they were right where they wanted to be over the drop zone. The winds ended up being perfect for a jump, and this was the best weather for jumps we've ever had since I've been here," he said. 

Sergeant Mortenson said he and the other jumpers were pleased with the exercise.
"It's a way of paratroopers getting together to show some camaraderie and passion for jumping out of airplanes," he said. "It's something we can all relate to. I gained a lot of respect for all of the countries that participated in the Americas." 

Participating in the jump from the Honduran army was Lt. David Martinez. 

"I thank God for this great experience," he said. "We love to do all of these combined operations with the United States Army and all of the other armies in Latin America."
Lieutenant Martinez has spent seven years in the army, and is currently training with his battalion to become part of a United Nations peacekeeping unit. 

"When it comes to training, we have different points of view," he said. "We share, we talk, we tell our stories and share very good moments indeed."
The lieutenant said he can now understand how it works in the other airborne schools in Latin America in regard to their training, aircraft and equipment.
"If we can adapt any new techniques that can help us improve, we're more than welcome. I have learned a lot from the United States Army. I am who I am and have the knowledge that I have because of them," Lieutenant Martinez said. 

Working behind the scenes for Iguana Voladora were Airmen, Sailors and Soldiers who served as escorts for the different countries. These service members were hand chosen because of their language abilities to act as a liaison for each involved country. Staff Sgt. Esteban Hernandez and Senior Airman Anthony Legarreta, both from the 612th Air Base Squadron fire department, served as escorts during the exercise. 

"We communicated with them, picked them up and escorted them around the base," Sergeant Hernandez said, noting that his group was particularly friendly and liked to joke around with each other. "It's a tight group. You can sense that," he said. 

Airman Legarreta said although the first day or two the groups tended to keep to themselves, he noticed they were talking and interacting more with the other countries as the exercise played out. 

"The day that we actually picked them up, they were really looking forward to (the jump)," said Airman Legarreta.   "Just to see everybody jumping, it was pretty outrageous," he said. "Just to see everybody coming together (was great) especially now after the jump." 

Although the paratroopers jumping from the 1-228th Aviation Regiment's CH-47 Chinook helicopter was the highlight of the exercise, JTF-Bravo also hosted a pool party, soccer game, barbecue, command run, an evening social and a banquet. The event's success is due to the hard work of everyone involved here, according to command leadership. 

"Truthfully, the operation would not have happened without the men and women of Joint Task Force Bravo," said Maj. Gen. Glenn F. Spears, deputy commander of U.S. Southern Command in Miami, Fla. 

"Not only do they provide the organizational construct and the command and control, but they provide the lift, they provide the supervision, they provide the experience that helps these nations be successful," the general added. 

Iguana Voladora began Aug. 13, 1997, and included Guatemala, Honduras, and the United States. It continued progressing and was named "GENERAL FRANCISCO MORAZAN" in 1998 and "FUERZAS UNIDAS in 1999 and 2000. The first operation named Iguana Voladora was April 15-19, 2002, and included Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico, Nicaragua, and the United States. 

(Army Sgt. William Nash, AFN Honduras, contributed to this article.)

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