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Soto Cano Air Base

Soto Cano Air Base (commonly known as Palmerola Air Base) is a joint Honduras and United States military base near Comayagua in Honduras. A large concentration of US troops and the Honduran military Air Force academy. The airbase became operational in 1981. Oliver North once used Palmerola as a base of operations for the U.S. backed Contras in the 1980s. Now the U.S. military uses Soto Cano as a launching point for its war on drugs efforts in Central America as well as humanitarian aid missions throughout Honduras and Central America.

In addition to the Honduran Air Force Academy, the US military's Joint Task Force Bravo (JTF-B) is headquartered at Soto Cano. JTF-B consists of Medical Element - Military Hospital, Army Forces, Air Force Forces, Joint Security Forces, and the 1st Battalion-228th Aviation Regiment (consisting of some 18 aircraft, a mix of UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters and CH-47 Chinook helicopters). Total size of JTF-B is approximately 500 troops.

About Soto Cano and JTF-Bravo command and structure

Enrique Soto Cano Air Base is a Honduran military installation and home of the Honduran Air Force and Air Force Academy. It is located less than from Comayagua (population: 33,000), and from the Honduran capital, Tegucigalpa. The base is about two miles (3 km) wide and six miles (10 km) long; lies in the Comayagua Valley and is ringed by mountain peaks to the east and west. Soto Cano sits at an elevation of above sea level.

The American contingent at Soto Cano Air Base is designated Joint Task Force-Bravo and consists of approximately 550 U.S. military personnel and more than 650 U.S. and Honduran civilians. They work in six different major support commands including the Joint Staff, 612th Air Base Squadron, Army Forces, Joint Security Forces and Medical Element. The sixth MSC is a tenant unit also based at Soto Cano. The 1st Battalion, 228th Aviation Regiment, a U.S. Army South asset, provides aerial support for the JTF-Bravo mission. The Joint-Staff provides command and control for JTF-B.

The 612 ABS has among its functions; weather forecasting, fire protection, and maintaining a 24-hour C-5 Galaxy-capable runway. The Army Forces operate finance, personnel and airborne operations. Joint Security Forces consists of Air Force and Army force protection personnel who patrol the base and provide gate guard duty alongside their Honduran counterparts.

Health care services are performed by the Medical Element. The 1st Battalion, 228th Aviation Regiment performs a variety of airlift support missions throughout Central and South America with UH-60 Black Hawk and CH-47 Chinook helicopters. U.S. forces are guests on the base which is the home of the Honduran Air Force Academy.

Infrastructure

The Honduran Constitution does not permit a permanent foreign presence in Honduras. A "handshake" agreement between the United States and Honduras allows JTF-Bravo to remain in Honduras on a "semi-permanent" basis. This agreement, an annex to the 1954 military assistance agreement between the United States and Honduras, can be abrogated with little notice. Soto Cano lodging for U.S. personnel there consists of “hooches” and metal barracks. The hooches are temporary wooden buildings of tropical design, normally by with screened windows and a tin roof with air conditioners and fans for cooling. Metal dormitories are more permanent structures and have air conditioning. Both contain beds and other furniture, televisions, refrigerators and microwaves.

The hooches and metal barracks have no running water. However, latrines, shower facilities and laundry rooms are centrally located to the living areas. Dayrooms, volleyball courts, barbecues and “bohios” (covered picnic areas) are also located throughout the base. All the domestic facilities, like the post office, library, dining facility, fitness center, pool and base exchange, are clustered together within a five-minute walking distance. As of early 2005, Soto Cano began seeing new housing facilities built as part of a military construction project. The project called for 44 four-unit apartment buildings, with indoor plumbing. In the future, plans call for construction of several two-story dormitories to be built. The apartments and dormitories would replace some of the 270 wooden hooches used for decades by permanent party personnel, but now used by permanent and temporary party personnel. Most permanent party personnel are stationed at JTF-Bravo for a year and the assignment is treated as a remote assignment, much like assignments to Republic of Korea.

Plans called for the construction to take place over the forthcoming years with all base facilities to either be new or receive major upgrades. A big improvement with new construction will be the indoor plumbing and central air conditioning in the new buildings. Currently, metal dormitories have central air conditioning, but do not have running water. Wooden hooches do not have running water and air condition is provided by window air conditioning units. In addition, the new buildings will lessen the requirement for constant maintenance.

As of January 2008, all 44 of the apartment buildings were finished and already occupied. Additional four-unit apartment buildings, or “quads,” are scheduled to be built in 2009. When construction on the dormitories would begin remains unclear.

All military live on base, but contractors live off base on the local economy. Contractors and foreign national employees are the only personnel allowed to drive personal vehicles on base and the majority of people walk or ride bicycles. Because the base is so compact, it poses no problem getting around.

Most personnel arrive in Honduras via private air carrier through local airports. Upon arrival, there is a bus system that will transport personnel to Soto Cano. The bus runs in conjunction with arrival and departure times.

Civil aviation

On May 31, 2008 Honduran President Manuel Zelaya announced that commercial flights would begin at Palmerola within a period of 60 days, after a crash at Toncontín International Airport which resulted in 5 deaths was blamed on the runway being too short at Toncontín.. The crash was more human error, because a further investigation found the runway has nothing to do with the accident.

References

Corporación Aeroportuaria de Palmerola http://www.latribuna.hn/news/45/ARTICLE/35974/2008-06-13.html

“Las instalaciones de Palmerola pertenecen a nuestra Honduras”http://www.latribuna.hn/news/45/ARTICLE/35285/2008-06-04.html

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