By David Pease
We are ready to secure our tickets and wait to board the plane at RDU. Everything looked good until we found out I had submitted an incorrect name for my Captain, and things did not match his Passport. Things got a little squirrely, and time was running out to the board. I stayed with him regardless that he wanted me to board, whether he made it or not. I will never leave anyone behind. Finally, he got his new corrected ticket, and off we went. His big concern now was if his bag would make it. We got to Atlanta quickly, then off to Guatemala City. To give you a heads up, this training was for the military rescue personnel; we didn’t bring in the firefighters until the next trip.
We land at Guatemala airport. It’s a small terminal and coming in was an experience. The pilot must drop the plane in front of the volcano. We taxied up and then departed the plane into the terminal. Back then, there were only a few flights each day, so there was not a lot of air traffic. We were met by the military in the terminal and were told to give our passports to one of the Officers. Not something we were keen on. He came back shortly with all of them stamped and cleared. We then moved right on in and to the baggage pick up. All was good with only one exception; my Captain’s bag was not there. He figured he would never see it again, which put a damper on things. We already had several appointments to make, and our jumpsuits were in our bags, as was his. We had never met Silva Ayuso, but she was the person from “Paramedics for Children” we had coordinated everything through down there. We told her about the baggage not making it, and she said she would handle things.
They loaded us all in a deuce and a half, and we were off to the small army base at the other end of the airport. We have two escort trucks with armed military personnel with us. We unloaded our stuff in the barracks, got the donated rescue truck, and went to the defense Ministry. The rescue truck was donated to the military “Rescate” and was going to be shown along with a ceremony at the Ministry of Defense. We got there, and of course, lots of pictures were taken. Our Captain had to stand in the back since he did not have his jumpsuit. We made a couple more stops, then back to the base. We arrived at the barracks, and it was time to settle in with our stuff and see how we could work out logistics for the training. We had about 60 personnel to train, so now it was time to see how to make that work. Also, much to our surprise and the surprise of our Captain, his luggage was in the middle of the barracks floor. We soon realized how much an ally Silva was going to be.
Being this was our first time in Guatemala, we had no clue how things would work logistics-wise. We are so used to having everything we need to train with, which was so not the case there. We had planned on running four stations with four groups. Each group would then rotate each day through a station. We planned on two rope stations and two extrication stations. The rope stations were not going to be hard to set up. We had sent down ropes and some hardware, and it only took finding some good locations. Trees and buildings were not hard to find at the base. The extrication stations soon proved to be a different matter, especially when your Spanish is like mine. We planned to do a stabilization station, along with an extrication station. When I asked about the logistics, I was told we had one vehicle. This is not what I wanted to hear. For the stabilization station, one vehicle would work. For the extrication station with hand and power tools, not so much. After much scrambling around, we could pull together two more vehicles to stretch out for the week. However, we did have to go to another small base location to run these stations. Traveling in Guatemala City is not a fast thing that happens. We also had the two pickup trucks with armed military guys watching over us. The good thing is we made it all happen. Training went quite well, considering it was something new to them and us.
The Guatemalan people are proud people but also the nicest folks you will ever meet. Having never been there before this mission trip, I had no clue what to expect. They treated us like royalty and celebrities. When we finished the classes on Friday, we had planned to give them all the printed T-shirts we wore each day. We tried to pair the sizes up with the students, but our military interpreter told us not to worry about that. Instead, they had us autograph the shirts and planned to hang them on the wall. The Guatemalan folks are very ceremonial, but many of them are descendants of the Mayan Indians. They had a very nice opening ceremony on Monday morning for us, and then another closing ceremony on Friday. The instructors were awarded nice certificates and given nice handmade gifts.
We didn’t spend all our time teaching, though. Being that they really wanted to show us around, and that could only be done in the evenings, as we taught all day, rest sometimes escaped us. They took us to the small range and let us shoot their Israeli Galil 556 rifles. They took us on a ride on their Vietnam-era troop carrier, did some rappelling on the tower (see pic), took us to the jump school and let us come off the jump tower in WW2 training harnesses, and to the Navy Base for a boat ride. I had soup at the Navy Base with a fish head looking at me. But, I will say, David, did not eat him. The fresh coconut drilled out and strawed at the jump base was good, though.
We did get to eat out at the local Hooters, with the parking lot completely guarded. An experience all in itself. They cooked us steaks on Friday night at the base and had music to dance to. For my first time down there, it was an experience of a lifetime. There are many stories to be told, but you need to ask me because they won’t be in this article. I left there with one of the most gratifying feelings I have ever had, as did my entire crew of Instructors. We left completely humbled by what they were able to accomplish with so little to work with and how we are so spoiled here to have almost whatever we need. The drive and dedication that these men and women possess are remarkable. Something you rarely see here in the states. It was this trip that put us on a journey to send donated equipment and continue to try and train all the folks we can there.
Not to get ahead, as there is much more to tell, and it will be forthcoming. Things have moved forward there in good ways, as we have been working with them since 2008. The Lord put this whole thing in my lap, something I never saw coming. It opened a door that has changed my life in a good way as I continue the path of helping others. Stay tuned, as there is a lot more to come.
If you are interested in helping in this worthwhile mission, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
David Pease, Chief
The Reds Team