Wednesday, April 23, 2008

So much to do in such little time!

Wake up call at 5 a.m.! Everyone looks refreshed this morning at breakfast. Within the hour we were being escorted to the airport for a trip to a Colombian military base in Tolemaida. This time we were flying in a C-130. Imagine two long rows of mesh military seats facing each other with only a few inches between your knees. A new experience for our JCOC group and another example of how travel for many military operations. We were soon airborne again!

Interesting... About 20 minutes into our flight to Tolemaida, our aircraft took defensive measures to include a few sharp turns and the release of chaff. Then as quickly as it happened, it was back to the routine flight. I'm told it was simply a precautionary measure for travels in the region. And I'm willing to bet that very few of our participants even noticed, assuming it was just part of our short but bumpy ride. For those who did notice, it was just another interesting little part of the journey!

We arrived in Tolemaida and exited the plane to a warm, high altitude location with clouds below us, yet surrounded by many more mountains. It is beautiful here!

While in Tolemaida, we were kept fully engaged with an initial brief by the local Colombian military commander, and a series of stops around the base. We received field presentations by their special forces - the Lanceros- who then allowed the group to try their hands at the military repelling stations - 18 meters up. Many JCOCers took part. They also had a batch of local snakes on hand, who seemed to enjoy wrapping themselves around us all for photos! The special forces event lasted quite a while, and it was clearly appreciated by our group to see how they train.
Next, we witnessed a live-fire house-clearing demonstration, watched a .50-caliber target shooting demonstration followed by a chance to shoot the weapon ourselves to feel what it is like, and an impressive humanitarian assistance display with a variety of scenarios being demonstrated. It was a full morning that really showed how the Columbian military, along with U.S. assistance, is engaging in a variety of activities related to drug interdiction and humanitarian aid.

After a short plane trip back to Bogota, we were quickly en route to the U.S. Embassy where we had a working lunch with Deputy Chief of Mission Brian Nichols and the country team. We learned more about local missions for USAID, the Pol-Mil section, economics and drug eradication. We all wished we had more time for deeper discussion, but it was a good overview.
Later, we broke into smaller team groups and visitied the Columbian Urban Counterterrorist Special Forces to view a live-fire house clearing demo and to speak with Colombian commandos. We were dressed with appropriate safety attire and we got up close, watching the scenario unfold from a catwalk overhead. It was a powerful example of the intricate training necessary to do what they do. The groups also visited the local DEA headquarters where we learned about the cocaine production problems in the area, as well as cooperative erradication, interdiction, and plans to move the region forward.

As if that was not enough, we were off again! We chanted a few rounds of the JCOC cheer and we were going again! "We're not tired. We're not sleepy! We feel good!"

Last night (Tuesday evening) we attended a reception at the home of the ambassador. This was another great opportunity to speak with Colombian and U.S. personnel about the regional issues.
And everyone was off to sleep in advance of another busy day ahead!


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