JTF-Bravo Fosters Regional Cooperation for 36 Years

Joint Task Force-Bravo promotes regional cooperation and security in Central America.
Geraldine Cook/ Diálogo | 17 April 2019

Capacity Building

Joint Task Force-Bravo leadership visits Costa Rica, December 6, 2018, in support of a medical readiness exercise. (Photo: U.S. Air Force Senior Airman Destinee Sweeney)

Joint Task Force-Bravo (JTF-Bravo) celebrates its 36th anniversary as a trusted partner to Central America and beyond. The task force, a subordinate command of U.S. Southern Command (SOUTHCOM), is located at Soto Cano Air Base in Comayagua, Honduras, since it was set up in 1983, when the two countries signed a partnership agreement to foster security, stability, and prosperity in the Western Hemisphere.

Patients from Huehuetenango, Guatemal,a line up to register for medical and dental care as part of a Medical Readiness Training Exercise in February 2018, which offered medical services to over 1,500 patients. (Photo: U.S. Marine Corps 1st Lt. Kristine Racicot)

“JFT-Bravo’s mission is extremely important for the United States and for us [Honduras],” said Honduran Army Major General René Orlando Ponce Fonseca, head of the Joint Chiefs of Staff of the Honduran Armed Forces. “It’s important to emphasize our friendship, cordiality, and coordination.”

The United States and Honduras have a history of collaboration dating back to the 1960s, when their armed forces began combined training exercises. The U.S government used Palmerola Air Base, now Soto Cano Air Base, as a base of operations to support its foreign policy objectives in the 1980s. In 1983, the U.S. Congress authorized the creation of a joint task force, originally named Joint Task Force-11, and later renamed JTF-Alpha, to further this purpose. In 1984, the force earned its current name, JTF-Bravo. The initial mission provided command and control, administrative, and logistics support for exercises, deployments, and humanitarian and community projects. The task force expanded to work with all Central American partners in joint, and combined operations and support for security initiatives.

The forward air base works around the clock to execute humanitarian assistance and disaster relief missions, synchronize operations against criminal transnational networks, participate in multilateral exercises with partner nations, and build partner nation capacities to promote regional cooperation and security. “We work toward the same goals; drug trafficking, illegal arms, and terrorism threats in the Western Hemisphere. Working together helps both nations have well-equipped and trained forces able to provide prompt and timely responses to any problems that may arise,” added Maj. Gen. Ponce.

JTF-Bravo has a joint staff and five major mission-support commands: the 612th Air Base Squadron; the Army Forces Battalion; the 1st Battalion, 228th Aviation Regiment (1-228th); the Joint Security Forces; and the Medical Element (MEDEL). “We are here for humanitarian assistance and disaster relief, to coordinate efforts to counter transnational organized crime, and to build partners’ capacities,” said U.S. Army Colonel Kevin Russell, commander of JTF-Bravo.

Three decades of collaboration

As part of its operations, JTF-Bravo conducts regular Medical Readiness Training Exercises (MEDRETEs), capacity-building exercises—such as Central America Sharing Mutual Operational Knowledge and Experiences (CENTAM SMOKE), to train regional firefighting units—and operations to support national and international interagency efforts, among other tasks in Honduras and its regional neighbors. “Our cooperation with JTF-Bravo is very important,” said Major Gen. Ponce. “We coordinate air reconnaissance operations with their aircraft and they support us continuously in aeromedical missions in different parts of the country.”

In 36 years, JTF-Bravo provided humanitarian assistance, responded to natural disasters and contingencies, and conducted military and civilian training to strengthen the U.S. relationship with partners in Central America. Only the humanitarian brigades carried out through MEDRETEs served more than 480,000 people in Central America and the Caribbean since 1993.

“JTF-Bravo is known in the region for its medical brigades. Whenever there is a need, JTF-Bravo has been there to respond,” said Dr. Ricardo Aviles, JTF-Bravo’s Honduran medical liaison since 1994. “MEDRETEs get to locations that are extremely inaccessible. The manpower that the Ministry of Health and JTF-Bravo put together make an impact in the region we attend.”

Joint Task Force-Bravo representatives assigned to the Army Forces Battalion attended Artillery Day with their Honduran counterparts at Zambrano, Honduras, December 4, 2018. (Photo: U.S. Air Force Senior Airman Destinee Sweeney)

Local impact

For Honduras, the impact is clear. “The National Congress of Honduras recognized JTF-Bravo for helping to eradicate measles and polio in the country, and for responding during outbreaks such as whooping cough, said Aviles. “JTF-Bravo supported the Honduran Ministry of Health to perform immunizations on a regular basis—the immunization coverage for patients was less than 40 percent in regions like Gracias a Dios and Olancho. We brought the immunization coverage from 40 to 98 percent.”

For U.S. Air Force Lieutenant Colonel Christopher Cook, commander of the 1-228th regiment, JTF-Bravo’s historical impact is based on the consolidation of its long-lasting partnerships with countries in the region. “We have built and will continue to develop long-lasting partnerships, provide humanitarian assistance, disaster relief, and aid in furthering U.S. interests by building strategic partner relationships throughout SOUTHCOM’s area of operations,” said Lt. Col. Cook. “Historically, the 1-228th has continuously served as a resource of professional development for partner nation’s aviation units with subject matter experts to instruct on best practices in aviation mission execution.”

Central America is vulnerable to natural disasters due to its geographical location. The force demonstrated its regional support during the rescue efforts and post-disaster recovery operation of Hurricane Mitch in October 1998; the 8.0-magnitude earthquake in Peru, in August 2007; and in the Leeward Islands following Hurricane Maria in September 2017, among other missions.

Trusted regional partner

For Guatemala, JTF-Bravo has proved to be a steadfast partner. “The cooperation from JTF-Bravo to combat threats in the Central American region is important to train Guatemala’s Army forces as well as to support interagency operations,” said Guatemalan Army Major General Julio César Paz Bone, chief of Guatemala’s National Defense General Staff. JFT-Bravo and Guatemala regularly conduct combined air, land, and maritime exercises for tactical, operational, and strategic training, humanitarian assistance and disaster response, and peace keeping operations among different countries’ armed forces, he said. The Guatemalan Army participates on local MEDRETEs, where besides providing medical assistance to residents in remote regions, they have the opportunity to prepare to respond to possible natural disasters.

Since 2014, JTF-Bravo trained more than 1,500 members of the Guatemalan military. “We achieved an atmosphere of mutual trust to develop an interoperational dynamic among armed forces to better address the common threats affecting the Central American isthmus,” added Maj. Gen. Paz.

El Salvador also benefits from JTF-Bravo’s efforts to facilitate interoperability among the armed forces of the region, especially in the fight against emerging threats throughout Central America. “JTF-Bravo is important for consolidating regional coordination in the fight against common threats,” said Salvadoran Army Major General Félix Edgardo Núñez Escobar, head of the Joint Chiefs of Staff of the Armed Force. “They have the most advanced resources, materials, and technologies available in the Central American area, which facilitates their rapid use in case there is a requested for help from a regional military institution,” said Major Gen. Núñez.

With its solid presence in the region, JTF-Bravo’s reach is a clear testament to the U.S. efforts to collaborate with, support, and interoperate with its Central American neighbors. “The United States is here, and people do not have to look any further than JTF-Bravo in Soto Cano Air Base to understand the United States cares about the region, our neighborhood, and our partners,” concluded Col. Russell.

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