Special Tactics augments hurricane relief effort in Honduras

  • Published
  • By Tech. Sgt. Rose Gudex
  • 24th Special Operations Wing
U.S. Air Force Special Tactics operators from the 23rd Special Tactics Squadron at Hurlburt Field, Florida, responded to a request for humanitarian assistance following the devastation of Hurricanes Eta and Iota in Central America.

Within hours of formal notification, the team deployed in support of Joint Task Force – Bravo and U.S. Southern Command, and based their operations out of Soto Cano Air Base, Honduras.

It is important for the United States to help other nations when we can to strengthen the relationships with our allies and partners, said Lt. Col. Jesse Wilson, 23rd STS commander.

One of the primary capabilities of Special Tactics is the global access mission, which provides the U.S. military and partner forces access to anywhere in the world. That mission includes assessing and surveying landing zones for aircraft, as well as controlling the airspace of major airfields to clandestine dirt strips in any environment, including those devastated by natural disasters.

“Our (Air Force Special Operations Command) team is able to rapidly deploy by any means available,” Wilson said. The team was trained and ready “to survey, establish and control austere airfields in order to bring in humanitarian aid to help the people of Honduras.”

A Special Tactics Officers from the 23rd STS said the team was prepared to conduct sustained austere air traffic control operations for a period of up to two weeks. They also deployed with limited personnel recovery equipment in the event a recovery situation arose due to the destruction caused by the hurricanes.

The biggest challenge the team faced in Honduras was getting to the objectives, partially due to weather in the mountains and surrounding the isolated locations.

“The airfields we assessed were in remote regions lacking robust infrastructure,” the STO said. “We were able to overcome the challenge by using creative problem solving and splitting the team in order to access the airfields from multiple avenues of approach.”

One team flew to the north side of Honduras to approach the airfield from the coastline, while the other drove into the mountains, then flew to the isolated location on a helicopter. After arrival, the team conducted an airfield survey in Puerto Lempira and then Mocoron in the department of Gracias a Dios, Honduras.

Data collected by the ST team provided commanders with valuable insights on the selection and suitability of airfields for providing much needed supplies to the people of Honduras, the STO said.

“Our team was able to answer priority information requirements for JTF-Bravo, providing them the support they needed in order to continue successful (hurricane assistance and disaster relief) operations in Honduras,” the STO said.

The 23rd STS is no stranger to hurricane relief operations.

Two short years ago, an ST team from the 23rd STS opened a runway at Tyndall Air Force Base, Florida, after Hurricane Michael caused catastrophic damage to the base. The team controlled more than 30 aircraft over a period of three days until the 821st Contingency Response Group, Travis Air Force Base, California, took over.

Special Tactics operators constantly train and hone their skills for global access and personnel recovery in order to remain ready for the day when disaster strikes.

Any place. Any time. Anywhere.