More than 500 military and civilian personnel from the U.S. and 16 partner nations came together Aug. 7-15 in San Antonio in an effort to protect one of the world's most important, economic structures located nearly 2,600 miles away.
Known simply as PANAMAX, Fuerzas Aliadas-PANAMAX 2014 brings together sea, air and land forces in a large-scale multinational operational exercise focused on protecting safe passage of commercial traffic through the Panama Canal, as well as responding to natural disasters and pandemic outbreaks in various locations.
"The best thing about this exercise is that we are training on our interoperability with all of our partner nations," said Maj. Gen. Joseph P. DiSalvo, the U.S. Army South commanding general. "This type of exercise is hard when only dealing with U.S. Army forces, but when you factor in the 16 different nations, that all do things a little different, the language barriers, and understanding each others' procedures, it becomes challenging."
This year, in addition to the U.S., the nine-day exercise included participants from Belize, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Dominican Republic, El Salvador, France, Guatemala, Honduras, Jamaica, Mexico, Nicaragua, Panama, Paraguay and Peru.
"The core of the Army South mission is this partnership within the U.S. Southern Command region," said Col. Morgan Lamb, U.S. Army South and Multinational Forces-South chief of staff. "These 16 countries coming together with the United States are at the heart of what we do for the AOR and for the United States. Having these partners come together for this exercise strengthens those relations."
Army South acted as the multinational force headquarters. Brazil forces served as the land component command, Chile as the special operations component command, Colombia as the maritime and U.S. Air Force South as the air component command.
In addition to the defense of the canal, PANAMAX provided opportunities for the participating nations, along with Army South, to join efforts to develop strategies to counter threats by violent extremism and provide for humanitarian relief as necessary.
"An exercise like this is very complex. The opportunities to bring together all of the countries, and put them into a scenario like this is very few and far between," said Lamb. "That's why it's important that we come together during these opportunities to get every bit of training that we possibly can."
The Panama Canal is considered one of the most strategically and economically crucial pieces of infrastructure in the world. Six-percent of the world's trade travels through the canal every year, accounting for roughly 400 million tons of goods. It is critical to the free flow of trade worldwide and the region's economic stability is largely tied to the safe transport of several million tons of cargo each year.
PANAMAX has grown dramatically since 2003, when Panama, Chile and the United States conducted the first exercise and now includes training for many of the 21st-century threats encountered in today's land, sea, air and cyber environments. This year's exercise is designed to ensure plans are in place to respond to requests from the government of Panama.
This event is designed to execute stability operations under the support of United Nations Security Council Resolutions; provide interoperability training for the participating multinational staffs; and build participating nation capability to plan and execute complex multinational operations in addition to developing and sustaining relationships that improve the capacity of partner nation security forces achieving common desired goals, while fostering friendly cooperation and understanding among participating forces.
"It's not just sharing experiences and sharing interoperability, it's sharing culture and friendships and learning how each country operates so that we can work through different real-world scenarios together in the future," said Chilean Rear Admiral David Hardy, Multinational Forces-South deputy commander of operations.
With so much of the economic stability of the region tied to the canal, each country participating understood the monumental importance of not simply keeping the passageway safe, but also learning how to work together and depend on each other to support that mission.
"We [partner nations] have a responsibility to secure the Panama Canal so that commerce keeps flowing," said DiSalvo. "The goal of this exercise is to become familiar with how we're accomplishing our operations, then figure out how we sustain this type of training. I guarantee that in the future, we are going to have to do combined operations with our partners and we do not need to be starting at ground zero."