When they arrived, the sun hadn't yet crested the horizon. But preparations for their upcoming mission had begun.
First, instructors briefed them on the dangers of conducting military operations in a jungle environment. Classes covered such survival techniques as how to extract potable water from bamboo and water vines and informed the soldiers about the animals and insects they would likely encounter.
At the JOTC's mini-zoo, they were introduced to howler monkeys, caymans, bushmaster snakes and a variety of other animals native to Central America.
Then the paratroopers began an eight-hour jungle navigation course that required them to locate four of five points, anywhere from 500 to 1,500 meters apart, in densely vegetated terrain, complete with water obstacles.
"The thick vegetation made finding the points difficult," said PFC William Herndon, a gunner from Headquarters Platoon. "We had to get right on them to see them." Slippery mud and rocks added to the challenge.
"At one point, we were doing a river crossing," he said. "I was crossing a hanging tree, hand over hand, when I hit a patch of moss, lost my grip and slid straight down a mud bank into the river."
By the time the navigation portion of JOTC was over, Herndon said he was wet, hungry and exhausted, but the training was well worth it. "It gave us the opportunity to experience a totally different environment," he said.
PFC Bruce Miller, an artillery forward observer, said his team finished the navigation course in under 3.5 hours. "We only took two six-minute breaks and went straight on azimuth the whole way," he said
Next day, the paratroopers underwent waterborne training in Atlantic Ocean backwaters. It included capsize drills in 10-man inflatable watercraft, constructing one-rope bridges for crossing rivers and ravines, and fashioning field-expedient flotation devices from ponchos and rucksacks to prevent weapons and equipment from getting wet.
Sgt. James Petrie, a 2nd Platoon squad leader, learned that "a poncho raft is a way to get you and your equipment down a river or small body of water. The raft will keep most of your gear dry, and if you get tired, you can float on it. Besides, it's quick, quiet and safe."
Co. C commander Capt. Darrell Wilson said "Our battle focus has been on civil disturbance operations and training to standard. The training at JOTC gave these soldiers a change of pace, scenery and focus.
"A lot of the areas we could be expected to deploy to have some type of wet, tropical environment," Wilson added. "We always consider the enemy as being a soldier with a rifle, but, in many cases, the enemy can be Mother Nature and the environment we're in.
"If we don't know how to operate, navigate and survive in it, we'll experience more casualties to non-battle injuries," he concluded.