FORT SAM HOUSTON, Texas (Aug. 5, 2015) -- Sixteen countries from around the globe joined together to participate in Fuerzas Aliadas PANAMAX 15, which focused on ensuring the defense of the Panama Canal.
PANAMAX is an annual U.S. Southern Command-sponsored multinational training exercise series, which took place in two parts--Phase I Multi-national Forces South, June 19-27, and Phase II Combined Land Forces Component, July 27-Aug. 5, in different parts of the U.S. including Fort Sam Houston, Texas.
"The primary objective of the exercise is to demonstrate the capability of participating nations to conduct coalition operations at the operational level while under the auspices of a United Nations Security Council Resolution," said Lt. Col. Thomas Small, Chief of Operational Exercises, U.S. Army South.
PANAMAX 15 is a preemptive effort to respond to any request from the government of Panama to protect and guarantee safe passage of traffic through the Panama Canal, ensure its neutrality and respect national sovereignty.
"The priority for my country is the defense of the Panama Canal, to protect the transit throughout the canal on both sides and also to be prepared to face any potential threat in the canal or to the canal itself. To achieve that goal, we need to develop the capability of a multinational force and also establish the coordination required to make it work," said Lt. Col. Faustino Grajales, a member of the presidential guard in Panama.
Participants of the exercise took part in simulated training scenarios which included ensuring civil, naval, air and ground security forces can operate as an effective team, coordinating assets and sharing information to respond quickly to a variety of crises and protect the security of the region.
This exercise is designed to execute stability operations under the support of a United Nations Security Council Resolution, provide interoperability training for the participating multinational staffs, and build participating nations' capabilities to plan and execute complex multinational operations.
Lt. Col. Sindulfo Villalva, Chief of Staff for the Paraguayan army, who has participated in a few joint training exercises in his career, including PANAMAX, believes this exercise is the best multinational training exercise that brings multiple forces within the region for a better future.
"Joint training exercises such as PANAMAX have a better result, because we work with many countries and create a unified concept of operations which would make it much easier for future real world missions," said Villalva.
Participants of the exercise said, the most important benefits of multinational exercises like PANAMAX 15 is that all participants are able to exchange their personal experiences, expertise and gain new knowledge about each other's culture and people.
"I believe the exchanges in this type of exercise allow us to have a very profound interaction and an in depth knowledge of the doctrine as well as personal contacts throughout our careers. This is the best way to keep the connection with our brethren countries," said Col. Oscar Rojas, Chief of Staff of Operation for the Chilean army.
As the Army service component command of U.S. Southern Command, or SOUTHCOM, Army South conducts and supports multinational operations and security cooperation in the Southern Command area of responsibility in order to counter transnational threats and strengthen regional security in defense of the homeland.
During PANAMAX 15, Army South participated and facilitated the exercise, ensuring a positive learning process for all participants.
"The most important part of this exercise was building relationships and trust among the participants and participating nations as the various commands, staff sections and planning groups were established and began working together," said Small, the lead Army South planner for PANAMAX.
As a staff member who is directly involved in the day-to-day protection of the Panama Canal, Grajales knows how important it is for all nations within the region to join to battle the many threats the canal faces daily.
"Both for me and my country, it is important to get to know all the member nations, the capabilities of member nations and to develop a common language to be able to work together," stressed Panamanian Grajales, who participated in the operations portion of the PANAMAX 15 exercise.
The majority of countries participating in PANAMAX 15 are located within SOUTHCOM's area of responsibility, which includes the Caribbean, Central, and South America. Additionally, this year Canada and France, who are not a part of SOUTHCOM's area of responsibility, participated in the exercise.
In order to fully benefit from the exercise and understand what a "real world" joint multinational operation requires to work, every participant from each nation had a role to play, according to Small.
This year, Brazil led the Special Forces components, Colombia led the land component, Chile led the maritime component and Peru led the air component of the exercise.
"[Chile's] priority is to get integrated with all the nations within the region, to share our experiences, to strengthen our bonds and to learn from each and every one of the participants," said Rojas who is already looking forward to next year's PANAMAX, because it will be conducted in Chile.
According to Small, although there were participants from 16 countries who spoke different languages and there were cultural differences, each person worked together to tackle the common problem and find solutions.
"Everyone learned something from the exercise. These lessons included how to conduct joint, combined, and interagency operations as well as an appreciation of cultural differences and national capabilities," said Small.