MANAGUA, Nicaragua - Military and civilian officials from 22 countries in Latin America and the Caribbean--along with regional and international organizations such as the United Nations, the Conference of American Armies, Organization of American States, Conference of Central American Armed Forces--met in Managua, Nicaragua this week to participate in the annual multinational exercise Peace Keeping Operation North (PKO-North).

PKO North, which runs this year from June 10-20, is sponsored by U.S. Southern Command and planned and executed by U.S. Army South and the government of Nicaragua. The exercise has been conducted each year in Latin America or the Caribbean since 1995.

PKO North provides a training forum for increased cooperation between Latin American and Caribbean militaries, non-governmental agencies (NGOs), international organizations and governmental organizations, and it promotes improved capabilities within the western hemisphere to respond to worldwide peacekeeping challenges.

Roger Astin, the exercise scenario manager of U.S. Army South, explains that the goal of the exercise is to apply techniques and lessons learned to the execution of a multinational peacekeeping operation with emphasis on preparing and training for common challenges likely to be encountered during UN peacekeeping missions.

"We have a representation of many countries and organizations here, many of whom have never worked together before," says Astin. "The purpose of the orientation is to get all the players together; get them acquainted with each other and used to working together as a multinational coalition."

The scenario will focus on applying techniques related to the execution of a multinational peace operation with emphasis on a transition of responsibility between a Multinational Coalition Force and a United Nation Force Command, as well as rehearsing civil-military coordination with the UN.

"I am honored to work with our host nation, Nicaragua, and our partner-nation participants," says Brig. Gen. Manuel Ortiz, Jr., exercise co-director and Deputy Commanding General of U.S. Army South. "This exercise is designed to build regional teamwork, enhance communication and improve capabilities within the hemisphere. By providing a challenging scenario [during the exercise], we will continue to achieve our goal of providing our partner nations' peacekeepers vital and essential training that allows them to bring stability to parts of the world ravaged by war, famine and disease."

In September, Uruguay will host PKO South, and next year the two exercises will be combined into one "PKO Americas" exercise that will involve participants from throughout the western hemisphere.