C-47 Jump with the TESONES

Tropas Especiales de Selva y Operaciones Nocturnas

by Colonel Herbert Holeman

Apart from the other paratrooper forces of Honduras, here, there also is the Tesón, an elite corps of the Honduran Armed Forces Known as Las Tropas Especializada en Selva y Operaciones Nocturnas - TESÓN, which are specialized Troops in Jungles and Night Operations. Initially, the Tesones were trained by instructors from the US Special Forces and Rangers to act in all kinds of extreme conditions and inclement weather. Additional training by instructors from the CIA and the Argentine Military College included the search and capture of foreign infiltrators and operatives within Honduran territory. Teson leaders were also sent to attend the US Ranger, Lancero and Kaibil Courses to tailor the Teson Course to meet national needs.

Tesones conduct operations in La Moskitia, which is the largest area of virgin tropical rain forest in the North American hemisphere. The dense primal wildnerness of La Mosquitia is jungle located along the coast to the northeast near the Nicaraguan border. It is full of swamp, lagoons, and a tropical rainforest. A remote area, it is only accessible by air, sea, and river. As a corridor for drugs moving from the south to north, site is an ideal route for the the drug cartels to pass through with their cargo en route from Colombia, Peru and Bolivia.

The current TESON trainee Is required to complete a training program which parallels that of the Ft Benning airborne course and that conducted by the U. S. Army for the Ranger Department. For that purpose, U.S. Army engineers constructed the Teson training facilities to meet the U.S. Army standards at the Tamara base which is located in a valley flanked by mountains not far from the city of Tegucigalpa.

Training involves incredible physical and mental stress, and those selected for training are the highly motivated and the elite of the Honduran military. Trainees are subjected to a collage of nonstop operations in jungle warfare, night operations, and survival skills. It is conducted under the most demanding of conditions as evidenced by a 2015 news article published here in La Tribuna, which included the video here of the training requirement to eat dog meat as part of survival courses. Only after months of such arduous training, those graduating are awarded the coveted TESON badge.

The red flash on the black berets worn by the TESON Rangers is shown in the picture. It was with these troops that we had come to Honduras to join with in a friendship jump. The day before the jump our group boarded a military bus at dawn which took us on a long bumpy ride over a winding two lane mountain road to the base at Tamara. Stiff-jointed on arrival the battalion commander welcomed us with a broad smile on his bronzed face and led us to pre-jump prep and a walk-through of the Tamara drop zone. Trudging across the DZ,we quickly learned the high brush masked an uneven terrain. This was not the soft fields of Fryer Drop Zone at Jump School, or the soft sands of Sicily Drop Zone at Fort Bragg. The Tamara DZ was strewn with good-sized rocks and laced with a series of deep ruts.

Yet, the airborne forces of several nations have jumped here, including an exercise involving paratroopers from 17 nations in 2008 and another operation in 2014. In particular, the U.S. and Honduras have routinely engaged in joint operations. In May 1988, paratroopers from the 82nd Airborne Division jumped into the Tarmara DZ and linked up with the U.S. 7th Infantry Division (Light) and Honduran Army forces deployed along the country's southern border following an incursion by Nicaraguan forces.

The DZ at Tamara has long hosted jumps by other Latin American and European paras as well. In 1993, Italian paras spent two ten-hour days training with the Honduran paras before jumping from the same C47 aircraft we would use. As a sign of recognition an Italian para recalled the Honduran paras firing rounds into the sky from two M60 machines as the Italian paras made their decent. On landing, the Brevet and the Diploma of parachutist military Honduregno was presented to the Italian paras by the host military commander, Coronel Don Carlos Alberto Andino Benitez. As it happened the colonel would have a part to play in our concluding jump as well.

We had wondered if the nearby Soto Cano Air Base at Comayugua might have been a better choice for the drop. Then again, maybe not. As the result of Soto Cano jump, U.S. Army Major General James H. Rumbaugh died of his injuries incurred at a drop there. The Honduran Air Base at Soto Cano is the U.S. military's only usable airfield on the Latin American mainland and many aviation assets of U.S. Army South (USARSO), Southcom's army component, were moved to Soto Cano, including CH-47 "Chinook" helicopters, and UH-60 "Blackhawk" and "Medevac" helicopters. U.S. personnel have a working relationship with the Honduran military, including a Honduran military graduate of the Teson Course in 2007 being checked out for a jump from a U.S. aircraft.

In any case, at the time we would make our concluding jump, would not be at Soto Cano. We would be jumping into the Tamara DZ at the home of the Tesones. It prompted thoughts of a previous jump we made with the Salvadoran airborne forces into a DZ in similar condition as Tamara. On that jump, we and our Salvador hosts jointly suffered over fifty cases of broken and sprained ankles and legs.

The day of our jump, we found themselves cramped inside a vintage C-47 approaching the DZ. And when the Honduran jump master turned from the open doorway to face them with a smile, he held up the palm of his hand and blew across it to signify he was giving them the wind condition. With a broad grin on his face he made a circle with his fingers signaling no wind. It brought out a blast of adolescent howls among the younger paras among us, but an old special forces veteran only smiled. He had seen it all a long time ago.

The jumpmaster began running through his sequence of commands in Spanish.

"CHECKE EL EQUIPO!" He yelled out, prompting us to check our equipment and his command to Hook-Up quickly followed. Then pointing to the first para in the stick, he commanded.

"SALLE EN LA PUERTA!"With bodies now fully flooded with adrenaline and psyched up, the paras hurled static line snap fastners towards the end of the cable and with bodies pressed, shuffled forward to stand in the door .

The first para held his position in the open doorway waiting for the go signal. And when it came, he lept out into the roaring slipstream with knees together, arms folded over his reserve chute, and his static line trailing behind.


Feeling the jolt of the static line as I watched my canopy rip open, I pulled on my risers into the wind. Watching the ground rush up toward me, I picked my spot and worked the toggles to maneuver my descent toward it. My landing was less than smooth and in the distance I could see a figure running toward me. It was my son. It was the act of young captain giving the old colonel a hand in gathering up his chute.

As we trekked across the DZ, we heard the approaching roar of the C-47 behind us and spun around. Staring straight into the nose of the aircraft swooping low to ground level directly toward us, we instinctively pulled each other to the ground, dropping to our knees. With screaming engines, the plane roared low, passing directly over our heads, the blast from its propellers enveloping us in an avalanche of dust, and then climbing up and away, rocking its wings in a sign of farewell as it climbed out over the mountains.

We picked ourselves off the ground and headed to a corner of the DZ where that tradition known to paras everywhere as a Prop Blast Party was about to take place. The Honduran Army General Mario Pacheco was there himself to award the coveted Teson Wings to our group. The ceremony at this point was formal as the Honduran National Anthem was played and TV media cameras whirred.

After the pinning, there would be a reception at the Officers Club, but first the Honduran paras wanted to personally extend their welcome with a ceremonial waste of perfectly good cerveza (beer).

Kneeling in formation before our hosts, we chuglugged the offered cerveza, following which we were annointed (showered) with it while moaning its waste. And, as the photo shows, the old colonel consumed his share. It was a drenched group of fifty visiting paras who later shambled into the O club.

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