Last week I returned from leading a 4-man Air Force training team to Colombia to teach high angle rescue techniques to Colombian Air Force helicopter crews and para-rescue personnel. I was hoping to blog daily about my experiences, but I quickly discovered that internet access was in high demand and I had to beg, borrow, and steal just to get a chance to check my email every few days. I was, however, still able to find time to do some writing throughout my adventure. These are the chronicles of my adventurous trip to Colombia…
I woke up this morning and was greeted by a freezing room and a cold shower. Unfortunately, the problem wasn’t that all the hot water was already gone… there wasn’t any to begin with! There is only one faucet in the sink and shower, so nothing from the tap is heated or cooled. I guess it’ll be cold showers for a couple weeks, but at least I can be confident in the capability of our window air conditioner
I hope our room isn’t costing the Air Force too much…
Today was our first day of class. We started off with introductions and each of the instructors gave a capabilities brief. I talked about the UH-1N Huey, MSgt Friesz talked about the HH-60 Pavehawk and SSgt Dowd talked about what Pararescue Jumpers (PJs) bring to the fight. For our first experience using an interpreter, I think we did ok; but it’s definitely a skill we’ll need to develop in the coming weeks.
Once we got the basics out of the way, we separated the class into 2 groups (aircrew and PJs). The whole class was about 45 strong, but only 20 or so were aircrew members. Since we didn’t know our audience very well, I decided to take the first hour for them to brainstorm about their current capabilities and how we could assist them. I’m really glad I did too, because it turned out that many of the classes we were intending to teach were much too elementary for the technology and experience level of these Colombian Air Force veterans. Some of these guys have over 6,000 hours! (to put that in perspective, I have about 1,600)
Needless to say, it was a bit intimidating at first, but once we recognized their eagerness to learn the USAF way of doing things, we got into a groove and started teaching them the things they identified as valuable during our brainstorming session. Today, we talked about risk management, mission planning, searching psychology, crew coordination, and hoist cables.
We forgot that speaking through a translator would take twice as long and were surprised to discover how fast the hours flew by! Suddenly it was 430p… time to load up the truck and head back to dinner.
On the way back, I took a few shots and asked them what their base security was like. From what I can tell, the base seems pretty safe, but I intentionally use the word “safe” instead of “secure” because their security measures seem a little lackadaisical. There are houses within 5 feet of the outside gate and a major highway with a bridge that goes right over the base in one area. (pictures below)
They said the base was generally secure for Colombian military members, but there had been some issues with foreigners in the past so it was better to play it safe. Either way, we’ve been restricted from leaving the base while we’re here and can’t go outside our dorm area after dark, so I suppose there must be some kind of danger we are being protected from.
We generally have a two-man rule too, but it seems to be pretty flexible, so I took the opportunity to get a quick run in this afternoon before it got dark. Once class was done for the day, there was only only about an hour before sunset, so we didn’t get to spend much time outside today. I only had time to run about a mile, but I ran along the river and enjoyed the altitude and humidity, a stark contrast from the dry heat and mile-high elevation of Albuquerque.
For dinner, we ate at an outdoor food court near our dorms that opens in the evenings. I had a pretty decent burger, so I think we’ll be making this a daily ritual. It was great just to relax, talk about the day, and joke around in Spanglish with our new Colombian friends. I noticed a pickup futbol game going on in the quad next door too, so I might have to test my skills before I leave.
We spent the rest of the evening preparing for tomorrow and adjusting our lesson plans to fit their needs. Until then…
You can find Part 1 and 2 of the Colombia Chronicles here and here.