By Maj. Bernard GardnerApril 21, 2016
Several U.S. Soldiers are helping the partner nation of Panama disrupt the flow of tons of illicit drugs annually.
The Soldiers are members of a counter narcotics technical assistance field team (TAFT) with Fort Bragg's U.S. Army Security Assistance Training Management Organization, a subordinate organization of the U.S. Army Security Assistance Command.
Deployed to Panama, their mission is to train and advise commanders and police units in small unit tactics, signal, medical, watercraft and the logistics needed to conduct counter narcotics operations.
In coordination with the Office of Security Cooperation-Panama, the TAFT recently facilitated the Panamanian Police Forces' (PPF) communication architecture, which led to the success of Joint Operation Patria and the seizure of more than 6,000 packages of illegal drugs.
Prior to the operation, the TAFT's maintenance, watercraft and communications sections assisted PPF units in maintaining an 85 percent operational readiness rate for counter drug equipment donated by the U.S. and other organizations.
Knowing that the operation's success rested on the high readiness levels of both the equipment and personnel, TAFT members diligently trained Panamanian radio operators in outlying areas to operate the equipment.
"This TAFT has been here for several years, so although we were focusing our efforts on this particular operation, training on a full range of operations is ongoing year-round to support counter drug missions," Chief Warrant Officer Joe Romero, TAFT assistant team chief, said.
Continuous training, coupled with TAFT expertise and partner nation cooperation has proven to be a recipe for success.
"According to Panama's Public Ministry, 2015 drug interdiction rates increased by 40 percent over the previous year," Romero said. "There is no doubt that the TAFT's assistance ultimately led to a corresponding increase in PPF tactical proficiency, medical proficiency, communications abilities and operational readiness rates of counter drug funded equipment."
Panamanian counter narcotics forces develop, plan and execute counter drug operations in close coordination with U.S. government agencies.
"Another one of the things we do is conduct training and assessments of Panama's marine infantry and border patrol elements so they can sync future training through our Special Operations Forces and our U.S. Marine Forces South," Romero said.
He said not only has training in small unit tactics, land navigation, weapons marksmanship, and troop leading procedures led to increased performance during missions, but it has also set the conditions for the future.
The TAFT and Panama's counter drug forces took lessons learned from Operation Patria to develop best practices and apply them to future missions.
Lastly, the TAFT serves also as representative of the U.S. diplomatic mission in Panama.
"Each engagement and training objective is treated as a diplomatic engagement," said Romero, "and there is the opportunity to foster dignity, respect and trust between with the U.S. mission and the Republic of Panama."
This deep respect for one another was solidified last year when two TAFT members used their Army-trained medical skills to help save a local taxi driver's life after he was involved in a vehicle accident.
"The Soldiers were commended for their actions," said Romero, "but equally important was the trust and respect fostered between the local civilians and the U.S. mission because of the event. It is just one example of how the TAFT continues to develop a rapport with the host nation. Each day is an opportunity for positive engagement, assessment and training."
U.S. Army Security Assistance Training Management Organization deploys technical assistance field teams to partner nations in support of the U.S. Army's Security Assistance Enterprise's training objectives. These TAFTs are vital component of U.S. Army Security Assistance Command's Total Package Approach, which not only provides materiel for partner nations in the form of foreign military sales, but also includes training teams, spare parts and maintenance. USASATMO TAFTs support USASAC's goal of helping 153 allied countries and multinational organizations strengthen their defensive capabilities and promote democratic values throughout the globe. USASATMO is a subordinate organization to USASAC, which currently oversees more than 5,000 FMS cases with a combined program value of more than $172 billion dollars.