PANAMA CITY, Panama (Aug. 26, 2013) -- The annual Fuerzas Aliadas PANAMAX exercise, which took place in Central America and the United States, wrapped up Aug. 16, after forces from 19 nations took part in simulated training scenarios focused on ensuring the defense of the Panama Canal.The U.S. Southern Command-sponsored, 12-day exercise serves as a valuable tool to improve interoperability among participating nations according to those in attendance."One of the most important benefits of multinational exercises like PANAMAX is that all the participants can exchange their experiences and expertise and gain new knowledge about each other's culture and people," said Col. Larry Dotson, Army South exercise division chief.Known simply as PANAMAX, the exercise brings together sea, air and land forces in a joint and combined operation focused on defending the Panama Canal from attacks by a violent extremist organization as well as responding to natural disasters and pandemic outbreaks in various locations.PANAMAX develops and sustains relationships that improve the capacity of our emerging and enduring partners' security forces to achieve common desired goals, while fostering cooperation and understanding among participating forces."These interactions strengthen our bonds across the region and foster long-lasting partnerships and understanding among the nations participating, ultimately benefiting the overall security of the region," said Dotson.The distinct portion of the exercise that takes place within the borders of Panama, known as PANAMAX Alpha, marked the first time non-Panamanian forces were invited to participate as a bilateral entity.Army South deployed a contingent to Panama City to support the government of Panama by enhancing security cooperation with Panamanian public safety and security forces."The big significance for PANAMAX Alpha this year is that we were invited to participate as a bilateral entity involved in providing the Panamanian security forces some notional capabilities," said Lt. Col. Carlos Blanchard, Army South civil affairs partnering chief. "It allowed us to be integrated into their effort and get an understanding of the Panamanian forces as well as their roles and responsibilities."PANAMAX has grown dramatically since 2003, when Panama, Chile and the United States conducted the first exercise.PANAMAX 2013 incorporated participants from Argentina, Belize, Brazil, Canada, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, El Salvador, France, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico, Nicaragua, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, and the United States."PANAMAX has evolved over many years and will continue to meet the constantly changing nature of threats in today's security environment," said Dotson.In addition to Army South, service members participated in PANAMAX through simulated training that was executed in several locations including the U.S. Southern Command headquarters in Miami, Fort Sam Houston, Texas, and Naval Station Mayport, Fla.The Panama Canal is critical to the free flow of trade in the region and the entire world. The region's economy and political stability largely depend on the safe transport of several hundred million tons of cargo through the canal each year and PANAMAX 2013 is designed to ensure plans are in place to respond to requests from the Government of Panama to protect the canal.Brazil and Colombia led the land and sea components this year, marking only the second time that two partner nations outside of the United States led the land and sea functional components. This is the first year that the Brazilian army has participated in the exercise and the first time the Colombian navy has commanded the maritime component.