Technical assistance field team Soldiers with the Security Assistance Training Management Organization have won the Department of Defense's highest award for a maintenance program.

The 2017 award (operational category) was presented to the Caribbean Basin Security Initiative TAFT for providing the highest levels of training, advice and assistance in order to establish the self-sustaining maintenance capabilities of foreign security forces.

During 2017, CBSI-TAFT deployed 48 times to 13 nations tallying more than 1,000 days on scene. A joint team of six SATMO Soldiers and nine U.S. Coast Guardsmen, TAFT members include engineers, technicians, specialists and logisticians who operate under the tactical control of U.S. Southern Command.

Funded by the State Department since 2013, the CBSI is one of many forms of security assistance the United States provides to help Caribbean countries reduce the illicit trafficking of drugs and illegal arms, improve security and promote social justice.

The CBSI-TAFT has to date authored more than 1,200 maintenance procedure cards in three languages while promoting standardization and unity throughout the Caribbean for 12 classes of maritime interceptor vessels. Keeping the watercraft is critical to the mission, said Chief Warrant Officer 4 Alisha Johnson, the TAFT lead and logistic branch chief of the CBSI Counternarcotic Division.

"We've been able to positively influence 35 percent of U.S. Southern Command's area of responsibility by improving citizen security, ensuring water safety and a high state of readiness so their boats can go out and execute drug interdiction," Johnson said.

She called the TAFTs area of influence substantial, noting that it supports the Coast Guard commandant's western hemisphere strategy, and nearly 4,000 foreign service members with a combined fleet of 78 vessels valued in excess of $30 million.

The result of TAFT's hard work has paid off in a 41 percent increase in patrols, 12 percent increase in patrol hours, 182 percent increase in boardings, 68 percent increase in vessel seizures, and 45 percent increase in search and rescue operations.

Johnson said as the TAFT members travel from island to island as part of their advise-and-assist mission, "when we come back every quarter, they are more questions, so I can see that they are picking up on what we're teaching them."

Johnson said one of their focus areas is helping to instill "a culture of maintenance, teaching them to sustain their equipment."

She said the Caribbean partners are eager to learn, but they are not the only ones learning a lesson.

"Our TAFT members are learning to change their thinking also," explained Johnson, who said the diplomacy element of the mission is just as important as the training function. "We are in different countries and we are learning to change our mindset. Their cultures are different from what we're used to and we have to adapt to accomplish the mission."

All in all, Johnson said the assignment has been a once-in-a-lifetime chance and she and the team are grateful for both the professional and personal opportunities.