TRUJILLO, Honduras – With a rate of 86 people killed for every 100,000 inhabitants, Honduras is considered one of the most dangerous countries in the world according to statistics from the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime report in 2011.
With a murder rate four times higher than Mexico, these alarming numbers depict a nation where violence is part of everyday life. Many of these casualties are linked to narcotics trafficking, where Honduras and other Central American nations are used as a transit point from South America into Mexico and the U.S.; the preponderance of these illicit activities enter the region by maritime.
During a recent six-month deployment, members of Naval Special Warfare Task Element-Alpha, a deployed maneuver element attached to Naval Special Warfare Unit-FOUR in support of Special Operations Command South, partnered with their Honduran counterparts to train and increase the military capacity of the newly established Honduran Fuerza Especiales Naval or FEN. The FEN is a maritime unit of Special Operators capable of combating transnational organized crime in and around their waterways.
NSWU4, stationed in Joint Expeditionary Base, Little Creek, Va., and in support of SOCSOUTH, designed and implemented a comprehensive training and maintenance plan to build the FEN into a strong counter-narcotic force. This same training plan has been used before during the creation of the FEN in Guatemala.
Ten operators from SEAL Team 18, attached to NSWU-4, spent six months training and observing the FEN in a multi-disciplinary approach, resulting in 45 highly qualified Honduran Special Operators by the end of the training.
More than 110 Honduran sailors attended the two, eight-week Basic Underwater Demolition/SEAL (BUD/s) style selection courses, designed by the members of NSWU-4, which challenged the mental and physical capabilities of each individual. The training was modeled after the BUD/s selection course done by the U.S. Navy SEALs in Coronado, Calif.
The selection course in Honduras included rigorous physical conditioning assessments, team-building evolutions, and basic special operations skill sets.
Some of the conditioning assessments included an eight-mile log physical training event, and a six-nautical mile ocean swim across the Bahia de Trujillo that was completed by both NSW personnel and the Honduran FEN. After completing these physical and mental hardships to become a member of the FEN, the 45 qualified individuals continued through more rigorous and operationally-focused skills training, which completed their transformation into a disciplined and dedicated team capable of providing the Honduran Fuerza Naval a capable maritime branch of special operations.
To compliment the efforts of the Navy SEALs, members from Naval Special Warfare Special Boat Team 22 also spent a month with counterparts from NSWTE-A training the FEN in basic watercraft maintenance skills and procedures, nautical chart familiarization, boat vectoring and intercepting techniques, small boat handling tactics, and long-range navigation exercises.
“The combination of SEALs and Special Boat Operators provided the FEN with arguably the best maritime training available within USSOF”, said the NSWTE-A officer in charge.
Outside of the physical and technical training that is associated with a special operator, NSWTE-A focused on creating a team of communication specialists within the FEN to become experts in Harris radio technologies, a skill set that is lacking in most Central American units due to the lack of expertise.
“In my whole military career, I can only remember three times when radios were used successfully on a mission,” said the FEN’s commanding officer. He added that the skills learned during this training should improve the success rate of radios during military movements.
NSWTE-A also focused its efforts on partner nation self-sustainment strategies when seven FEN members were selected as future instructors, shadowing NSW counterparts during all training evolutions. This mentorship provided each Honduran instructor with the competence and confidence to conduct future selection courses and internal sustainment training unilaterally.
Organizational departments were also created to include assault, boats, communications, engineering and training with a senior officer and enlisted advisor assigned to each department.
“With the task organization of the FEN currently in place, they are now able to organize operations, training, and maintenance far more effectively which in turn has created a streamlined and capable maritime unit,” stated the NSWTE-A noncommissioned officer in charge.
This training conducted by NSWTE-A established the framework going forward for the Honduran FEN. The FEN is now task organized into assault, boat, communications, maintenance and training departments.
“The unique task organization, presentation of functional skill sets, and development of unit pride and esprit de corps has effectively paved the way for continued Honduran led training and operations in the future in order to keep their borders secure against transnational organized crime and illicit trafficking,” said the NSWTE-A officer in charge.