MIAMI, Fla. - The members of the U.S. Army Garrison - Miami Passport and Visa office play a part of the extensive base operations support the Garrison provides to U.S. Southern Command by handling all official requests for travel documentation in their Area of Focus.

As a 4-star joint command, USSOUTHCOM is heavily engaged with its partner nations, and its civilian and military personnel travel throughout Latin America on a daily basis. When they do, they call on Jorge E. Rivera and Luis Torres for official passports and visas - and occasionally, time is short.

"There have been a lot of short suspense requests," Torres said, "and some situations where we processed visas within 24 hours."

The Garrison team actually handles travel paperwork for all the armed services in the Southern Florida region, as well as the 32 United States Military Groups located in Embassies and deployed areas. They have been working with South Florida consulates for 10 years.

"For rush jobs, we call ahead and explain the situation. Every country is different," Rivera said.

During 2008, they processed 1,590 official passport requests, an amazing eighty-one percent of these within 10 business days. Even more amazing are the 430 completed on an emergency basis, within 12-72 hours.

"At other locations, it can take two to four weeks to get the same job done," Torres said. "We work hard to keep those relationships up, and get special service when we need it."

Just as critical, 740 of the 2,350 visa requests they received were processed under emergency conditions. This emergency support also included assisting stranded servicemembers and their families to obtain passports or visas in time to meet their port call dates.

In fact, none of the service to USSOUTHCOM would be possible without generating and maintaining good working relationships with foreign consulates, Rivera said. "Things can be stressed when you have rush paperwork. Consulates are busy just like everyone else."

The team decided to recognize twelve Latin American consulates for their ten years of excellent support provided to the USSOUTHCOM community by presenting certificates of appreciation to the Consulates' administrative staff and a special plaque to each Consul.

Garrison leaders supported the team's idea to recognize the great help given to the military, and the initiative was highly praised and approved by the USSOUTHCOM Commander, Admiral James Stavridis, who signed the certificates as senior tactical commander.

"It improved our ability to provide service [for USSOUTHCOM] and mirrors the Army focus on enhanced relationships with business partners," said Michael Norman, Deputy Garrison Manager.

The response from the consulate staff was positive, said Rivera. "We have an openness now that exceeds what we had before. When they see us, they are happy, even when we come in at 5 p.m. We know that we cannot do our job unless they are willing."

The ceremonies left an impact on the leadership as well.

"They were beaming, it was a good feeling to recognize the consulate employees for their assistance," Norman said.

"U.S. service personnel are travelling to those nations to make our nation more secure," he said. "This partnership is very important to us; you could see on their faces that the recognition was important to them."

(Editors Note: Carolina Santiago, Director of Human Resources for U.S. Army Garrison-Miami, contributed to this article.)