Not Your Typical Deployment: Engineering In Honduras

Rachael shared two of her deployment experiences with me. The first being Day 5: Manas Transit Center and today she will be sharing her experience of Engineering In Honduras. Rachael and I met while we were both working at Wright-Patterson AFB. Read the interesting story of all the work she did while deployed to Honduras, definitely meets the requirement of not your typical deployment.

Rachael deployed to do engineering in Honduras. Read her story as part of the 31 Days of Deployment Stories

Name:

Rachael Cooper

Rank during deployment:

1ST Lieutenant

Branch of Service:

Air Force

Current rank/current job if you have left the military:

Campus Engineer for Bacone College/Head Women’s Soccer Coach for Bacone College.

What was you or your team’s mission?

Maintaining the only C-5 Galaxy capable runway in Central/South America.

C-5 Galaxys are the largest air craft in the Air Force, why was this capability needed in Central and South America?

Natural Disaster response in Central and South America. Also if there was ever a military need in a hostile country.

What was your job (general duties/daily tasks)?

Project, projects, projects! From concept to 100% completion. Supervisor.

What sort of projects did you work on while in Hondorus?

Dorms, Runway, Roads, Helicopter Pads, lots of base security stuff – watch towers, boundary fencing etc. 

What do you mean by Supervisor, did you have Airman working under you that you supervised or local contractors?

Yes, I had a Master Sargent (E-7) Engineering Assistant. I also worked hand in hand with the United State Army Corp of Engineers (USACE) and local contractors.

What cultural differences do you remember between Honduras and the United States?

The poverty was astounding, but the people were hard working and friendly. There was a lot of petty theft in major cities and white people were targeted.

What landscape differences do you remember between Honduras and the United States?

Very Mountainous. Honduras was westernized, similar things there are in the USA, but at poverty level. I did a lot of helicopter flying and worked for the army. So, I went from place to place looking to put down Helicopter Pads. I got to see a lot of the country. Very dry, even though it rained a lot…just a rocky area. Very mountainous and beautiful. I loved the coffee. Great Coffee.

How cool. What was the purpose for putting in Helicopter Pads all over the country?

Drug interdiction. Lots of Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) support from our base.

I don’t think people realize how often the Air Force deploys people to work for the Army, my deployment was like that too. Did you learn anything about the Army or see any cultural differences between the Army and the Air Force?

Yes, it was interesting. I worked for a Colonel in the Army and I was his only Engineer in Honduras over the base development. He was very pleased with our capabilities and it was his first time overseeing base construction. Normally they go directly with USACE so working with me was a nice change for him I think.

Did you get to do anything different or interesting since you were not in a combat zone?

Since I was in Honduras for a year and got the chance to fly my husband out to see me. It was a more relaxed experience. We went to Copan Ruins for Christmas and Roatan (an island of the coast of Honduras) for a 4 day weekend. It was really nice to have that opportunity.

Were you able to see any of the country together while he was visiting you in Honduras?

Yes, see above =) It was dangerous though I must remind you. We were briefed on how to proceed. People would rob you at any chance if you had a backpack or carried anything.

Were there any particular foods that you ate while in Honduras that was different from the United States?

COFFEE!!! Yes, I can get coffee in the USA, but it is even better in Honduras.

What was the hardest thing you faced with the cultural difference in the country you were deployed to?

Not having a backpack. And the role of women was hard to see, but I knew about it.

Do you remember being treated differently than your male counterparts either by the local people or other members on the team?

Oh yes. But my outgoing personality and the ‘take no for an answer attitude’ really got all that out of the way early. At first women in a male dominated career filed such as civil engineering is hard to take in these foreign areas. Compound that with Civil Engineering in the military. Well that just doesn’t leave a lot of other women to seek guidance from. I was just myself, outgoing and worked hard to know my stuff. I gained a lot of respect from the contractors and locals. I really felt great working with these folks. Even in a language barrier situation we would draw up plans and use math to communicate. I feel that if I were ever stranded I could count on these folk to help me.

http://eepurl.com/bhKc3D

Do you think your perseverance and hard work were more important you’re your male counter parts because you were a women in a foreign country?

No, my status as American was all that I needed. Gender in my position didn’t play a role.

What challenges did you face?

Language Barrier. Medieval times construction methods.

Did you have contractors on your team to help you work with the locals?

Yes. The assistant Base Engineer was a local. He was invaluable.

I laughed out loud when I saw medieval times construction methods. Can you share an example of something you saw? For me, I remember when the contractor tried to use Styrofoam in the expansion joint because they didn’t know what went there.

Digging holes with shovels…like whole foundations dug out with shovels! Awful!

What is the one thing you remember most from your deployment?

Projects and meetings!

I was kind of going for random memory, something people who have never deployed wouldn’t know happened on a deployment?

The electricity went out all of the time around us. The only way we had steady electricity was our 5 large diesel generators. People are just used to having their power go out…crazy.

Is there a memory or story from your deployment you want to share?

One of the really cool things I did in Honduras was place helicopter pads for the drug interdiction special operations missions. That was great. Lots of flying, working with scary dudes and getting to see the whole country from the air…and a little air sickness in those Chinooks. 

What question do you get when people find out you deployed?

Humm…was it dangerous. Well yes it was, but I wasn’t out in the most dangerous areas. I never stepped into Afghanistan and let me tell you, those that did get my respect. I always had long days and a bed at night. There are those that didn’t and did a service for our country.

This is Day 20 of 31 Days of Deployment Stories. If you missed a day you can see all of them here. Yesterday I talked about being an A Civil Engineer Around the World. Tomorrow I will do another Spouse Spotlight: Deployed Again? Don’t miss a post. Sign up for my weekly email list here.

3 comments on “Not Your Typical Deployment: Engineering In Honduras

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.