What Palmerola's firefighters are really there for: PR

Instead of saving the lives of hundreds of Honduran prisoners right next door, SOUTHCOM is building obstacle courses for glory.

"Working with the American firefighters is the best experience of my life, and I'd love to work with them more often," said Jerry Ramos, a Honduran civilian firefighter who received the second fastest time at the obstacle course.

Original story on the Air Force's PR website:
CENTAM SMOKE fuels partnerships
by Tech. Sgt. Matthew McGovern
Joint Task Force-Bravo Public Affairs

6/21/2011 - SOTO CANO AIR BASE, Honduras -- Firefighters from the 612th Air Base Squadron's fire department trained alongside partner nation firefighters at Soto Cano Air Base, Honduras, June 6-9.

The exercise, called Central America Sharing Mutual Operational Knowledge and Experiences or CENTAM SMOKE, allowed U.S. and Honduran firefighters four days of team-building exercises.

"It's the first exercise like this I've been a part of and it's a great experience working with our host nation counterparts," said Tech. Sgt. Chad Magalianes, 612th ABS firefighter. "Sharing our experience with them is a reward in itself."

The firefighter training included a timed obstacle course where they wore full "bunker gear," including an air-breathing apparatus, while climbing flights of stairs, hoisting and chopping, dragging hoses and rescuing a life-sized 175-pound "victim."

Other training emphasized air medical evacuation patient loading, first responder medical training and aircraft and structural firefighting operations.

While enduring 1,000 degree fires in full bunker gear in the summer heat, the 27 Honduran firefighter classmates took away important skills that they will bring back to their firehouses.

"Working with the American firefighters is the best experience of my life, and I'd love to work with them more often," said Jerry Ramos, a Honduran civilian firefighter who received the second fastest time at the obstacle course.

Hector Cordova, the Honduran firefighter with the fastest obstacle course time, also enjoyed the challenge while learning how the U.S. Air Force firefighters conducted business.

"What I learned from them is the importance of physical fitness," Mr. Cordova said. "I was also amazed with their attention to detail when working with the equipment and how well they worked together as a team."

The firefighter leaders from both nations reflected during the close of CENTAM SMOKE, now in its sixth year.

"This week has truly been about building relationships here in Honduras, and I've been very proud to be part of this event," said Senior Master Sgt. Michael Burns, 612th ABS fire chief.

"I want to thank God for giving us the opportunity to be here; this course allows us to go back to our bases as better firefighters and hopefully save more lives that way," said Lt. German Centeno, an instructor at the Honduran National Firefighter Academy.

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Another relevant post

Golpista collaborator spotlight: Hart Lyman Companies, LLC, in which I wrote the following fieldnotes regarding further conversations with Palmerola residents:

On a side, but related (by helicopter and PR strategy) note, at the 4th of July party last Sunday in Zamorano, a Black Hawk was parked in the field where it had also been the other time I went (in 2002 I think) for all the kids to play in and teenage girls to strike sexy poses next to. The nice Air Force guy with the camelback water backpack who came up to me offering to answer any questions I might have. During our casual conversation he explained he was only stationed in Honduras for a few months. "I fly planes that never come to this part of the world" he told me. He told me his job was to "task" flights, that requests for helicopters and other flights come from the outside and he decides whether they can be filled. "Outside?"--"You know, the Honduran government, the State Department, USAID, the Honduran police, they ask to use our helicopters, and then I have to ask, 'What does this do for the U.S. government? Can I justify the cost?' There's lots of creative justification to do." A woman from Zamorano came by with an interpreter to ask if they could send someone up in the Black Hawk to take aerial pictures of the school's grounds, and he told her that they couldn't take civilians up in the helicopter, but that he'd be happy to tell their photographer to take the pictures if she told him which ones she wanted. When she left (happy) I asked, "You bring your own photographer?" He pointed at one of the guys in an army uniform, the one who had been making me kind of nervous taking pictures. "We always bring a P.R.O. [public relations officer]," he said, "whenever there might be good propaganda." He told me they would probably put the pictures up on their website. SOUTHCOM's? I asked. No, JTFB. SOUTHCOM couldn't care less. It was an interesting distinction, since I generally use them interchangeably when refering to JTFB, but it's clear that even though JTFB is SOUTHCOM's gig here, "SOUTHCOM" is understood as SOUTHCOM Central.