Forty Iowa National Guard soldiers deployed yesterday for a mission in Honduras.

The soldiers are part of a Military Police unit and Colonel Greg Hapgood, a spokesman for the Iowa Guard, says they will be part of “Joint Task Force Bravo” based in Honduras.

“Particularly they work on countering what they would call ‘transnational’ organized crime, narcotics and other kinds of criminal activity,” Hapgood says. “They do humanitarian assistance and disaster relief down there and they work on building up the militaries of those nations in Central America and that entire region to make them stronger bearers of their own security.”

The Iowa soldiers will spend a couple of months at Fort Bliss in Texas for training before moving on to Honduras.

“Certainly going to Honduras is somewhat new for the Iowa National Guard in recent history,” Hapgood says. “We’ve previously operated down there particularly in the 1990s and the early 2000s, but the 186th Military Police Company is excited to go do this job…and they’re ready to go.”

The Iowa unit is based at Camp Dodge, in Johnston, and a send-off ceremony was held there Sunday afternoon.

“The Iowa National Guard has done a number of deployments, particularly starting in the mid-1990s through the present day in more than 35 nations around the world,” Hapgood says. “Certainly, with Honduras, it’s been a while since the National Guard has been there on any type of lengthy basis but these soldiers are trained and ready to go do their job.”

This particular military police unit has been deployed to Iraq three time — in 1996, during the first Iraq War, then in 2003 and 2004 and again in 2007 and 2008. They were deployed in 1996 to provide law enforcement at U.S. military installations in Germany.

Honduras has been ravaged by drug-related corruption and violence and the country has the highest homicide rate in the western hemisphere, 16-times higher than the U.S. murder rate and more than double Colombia’s.