SOTO CANO AIR BASE, Honduras – A recent mission handoff between two security force assistance brigade battalions is laying historical groundwork for a maturing partnership between the United States and Honduras.
About 30 Soldiers from the Georgia Army National Guard’s 1st Battalion, 54th SFAB, concluded their mission in Honduras in late September with the arrival of the Texas National Guard’s 4th Battalion, 54th SFAB.
“While we’re here, we have three lines of effort: to build our partnership with the Honduran Armed Forces, to counter threats here in Honduras, and to build our team and make ourselves better,” said Lt. Col. Matthew Makaryk, the commander of 1-54th SFAB.
Although based at Soto Cano Air Base, their seven teams conducted advising and assessing operations throughout the country. The advisor teams also provided the Honduran Armed Forces with expertise in noncommissioned officer professional development, field artillery, embassy liaison support, communications, and medical training, as well as other combat functions.
One of their primary training efforts was supporting the Honduran army’s noncommissioned officer academy, the Escuela de Suboficiales del Ejercito, in the Honduran capital of Tegucigalpa. To ensure daily communication, one of the company advisor teams lived at a team house minutes from the NCOA.
“My team has become members of society here; we shop at the same grocery stores and eat at the same restaurants as the students and cadre,” said 1st Sgt. Matthew Kellerman, the noncommissioned officer in charge of Company Advisor Team 6110. He added that being Soldiers and members of the community is second nature to Guard members.
That duality of membership helped them recover from challenges presented by the COVID-19 pandemic. Through community membership, they rebuilt relationships with their counterparts at the NCOA.
“It was a slow start at first, but after coming here to the NCOA every day just to have talk sessions, asking about their families, and building that relationship, our bond made a difference,” said Staff Sgt. Kenneth Braden.
That rapport was significant, as it translated into successes in training, said Braden. They conducted weapons training, live fire ranges, rappelled together, led radio communications classes, ruck marches, and leadership planning exercises.
“The influence we had with the cadre showed during the battle drill practical exercises,” said Braden. “Instead of us doing the talking, the instructors were able to step in and say, ‘Hey, I learned this from you,’ and they were able to teach the lesson themselves.”
Another mission success was with their field artillery counterparts, the Honduran Army’s 1st Field Artillery Battalion. In their initial meetings in April, the SFAB members found that the Honduran Armed Forces had not completed a live fire with their M198 155 mm howitzers in over 10 years, said Capt. Kevin Householder, the leader of Field Artillery Advisor Team 1411.
The FAAT members were able to get to the root of the problem. They found deficiencies in equilibrators in four howitzers, which impeded the howitzer tube’s ability to recalibrate to its original position after being fired. Less than two months after SFAB members advised the Hondurans how to fix the issue, their counterparts completed a successful live fire exercise.
“This was a big win for the team,” said Householder. “It was a great way to build rapport with our partner force. Anytime an artilleryman gets to shoot live munitions, it’s a big deal. For us, it’s the cream-of-the-crop opportunity.”
But the SFAB impact in Honduras didn’t end with their military partner engagements. They also participated individually in volunteer humanitarian and community outreach efforts.
In May and August, SFAB members and their Honduran Armed Forces partners hiked 9 miles carrying at least 25 pounds of groceries each to local families in need. They also participated in an event supporting Dia De Los Ninos, Honduran Children’s Day, Sept. 10, helping welcome about 150 orphans onto Soto Cano Air Base. The children played games and interacted with Honduran military members and U.S. Soldiers.
For Capt. Jennifer Bostwick, the battalion fires support officer, this was her fifth interaction with some of the orphans she met during earlier food donation events.
“Every time I’m with them, we video-chat with my kids. Of course, there’s a language barrier, but we are still making faces and waving at each other,” said Bostwick. “Seeing the smiles on their faces helps to be away from home. When they see you, and they smile, and you smile, it’s a huge comfort.”
Bostwick said their support is “a continuous mission because the orphanages all run on donations.” She said she was moved to sponsor some of the orphans and will continue to do so when she returns home.
Although the Georgia Army Guard members are completing their deployment, the 54th SFAB Honduran mission will continue with their counterparts from the 4th Battalion, 54th SFAB, Texas Army National Guard.
The incoming SFAB members will build on the groundwork in Honduras and expand the brigade’s advising mission into other Central American partner nations.