JBSA-FORT SAM HOUSTON, Texas -- The U.S. Ambassador to Panama, John D. Feeley, visited U.S. Army South headquarters July 19, for discussions that included an overview of the upcoming PANAMAX 2016 exercise scheduled to start July 25. Ambassador Feeley assumed his latest diplomatic role in early February and is well versed in issues unique to the Latin American and Caribbean regions. He emphasized the strategic value the annual U.S. Southern Command sponsored PANAMAX exercise that Army South and other joint service and partner nation militaries take part in. "PANAMAX happens to be named after Panama. It sits right there in the middle of the hemisphere; it is a hub, a geographic hub [and] I think it's an enormously, enormously useful and important, I would say essential, cog in our hemispheric security strategy," said Feeley. Countering the ongoing threats to the safety and neutrality of the canal has never been more critical than it is today. The recently completed Panama Canal Expansion project added a new set of locks; doubling the canal's capacity and greatly increasing shipping traffic in the area. "Where we are today, in a post-cold war scenario with the absence of state-on-state conflict in the Western Hemisphere, with an asymmetric threat that is very present and comes in the form of either international terrorist networks, or international narcotics trafficking or human trafficking, those networks must be confronted in partnership," Feeley continued. In addition to the exercise's strategic benefits, Feeley recognized how PANAMAX fosters cooperation among U.S. allies in the Western Hemisphere while building partnerships and partner capacity. "PANAMAX is an essential part of what we, related commands and our partners do all throughout the Americas because it brings together folks to take a look at scenarios, not just in Panama, but obviously we know the threats to the United States don't respect national country lines. The transnational threats in the networks present our greatest threats to national security," stated Feeley. "Partnership means that we as security professionals have to recognize that we are working with sovereign partners. We have to understand that at times it is important to allow the capacity building and training of national forces," said Feeley. PANAMAX is a unified, multinational exercise that enables participating nations to work and train together to strengthen each nation's capability in countering the security concerns that threaten the stability of the Panama Canal and the region where it is located. "It is about interoperability, it's about mutual respect and understanding and appreciating what special things they bring to the fight, and it's ultimately about making sure that we as a democratic community of nations are staying focused on those threats that threaten our partners and us," explained Feeley. Referencing Ambassador Feeley's visit to Army South, Dr. Bridget Gersten, the State Department's Foreign Policy/Political Advisor assigned to Army South, noted, "Success is all about building relationships. It means bringing together expertise from across the U.S. government, as well as building bridges to our foreign partners so that we can meet shared security challenges." Preparations continue at Army South ahead of the PANAMAX 2016 exercise that will feature participants from 17 nations, including the United States.