PARAGON BASE, Barbados -- Most people envision the Caribbean as a vacation spot with sparkling waters and white sand beaches. For Soldiers, the Caribbean serves as the location for the annual SOUTHCOM-directed Tradewinds exercise.
This year's exercise takes place from June 6 - 17, with training locations in Barbados, Trinidad & Tobago, and Miami. Over 19 partner nations are involved in the exercise with U.S. forces. The training focuses on responding to natural disasters, as well as other land and maritime threats, including illicit trafficking.
"I think it's great to have partner nations come together, especially through this exercise," said Florida National Guard 2nd Lt. Michael December, 1st 185th Assault Helicopter Battalion. "We can come together and show each other what we have."
U.S. Soldiers, as well as members from the multinational forces, also participated in a community relations outreach, known as a COMREL, with a local school. The troops spent time with the students talking about military equipment, answering their questions, posing for photos and overall strengthening cultural understanding.
The COMREL also gave children the opportunity to see, touch and try on equipment that they've only seen on TV or learned about in school.
"This is a rare occasion to come into personal contact with these sorts of assets," said Capt. Cedric Proverbs, Operations Commander, Special Operations Company, Paragon Base. "Normally they'd just see this on television and it brings that from the screen to real life for these young people. This will remain embedded in their memories. I don't think they'll forget it that they were part of this Tradewinds."
The COMREL also allowed the student participants to learn about future career opportunities.
"I think it's great. Some students in school are dual citizens and being aware of the different militaries they could join is good," said teacher Dawn Ifill. "Being able to meet people from other countries gives them a wider scope of what they could do."
The Tradewinds 2017 outreach visit may already be making an impact on the children's future. Ifill said one student already told her that the event made her decide to join the military, and that other students may be inspired to join as well.
"It gives them a feel for the cultural differences and kids just love asking us questions," December said of the visit. "It's great to show the face of the military to the community."