TAMPA, Fla. -- The Department of Defense has presented the U.S. Southern Command-based Caribbean Basin Security Initiative Technical Assistance Field Team with the 2018 Secretary of Defense Award for Excellence in Maintenance Training, Advice and Assistance of Foreign Security Forces Operational.

TAFT's technical expertise is one of various forms of security assistance the U.S. provides to Caribbean nations as part of the Caribbean Basin Security Initiative to help the region reduce illicit trafficking, improve public security and promote social justice.

The 15-member CBSI-TAFT is comprised of U.S. Coast Guard and Army watercraft engineers, technicians, specialists, and logisticians with the Security Assistance Training Management Organization, a subordinate command to the Security Assistance Command. It has been funded by the U.S. State Department since 2013 as part of a presidential priority.

The award citation states that "CBSI-TAFT deployed 39 times to 11 nations amounting to 1,459 days on scene, positively influencing 29 percent of USSOUTHCOM's Area of Responsibility by improving citizen security."

The assistance provided by TAFT has helped Caribbean coast guards and maritime-patrol units keep their fleets operationally available to disrupt illicit trafficking, conduct search and rescue and support disaster response missions, as well as other coastal-security operations.

Eastern Caribbean maritime security forces supported by CBSI-TAFT realized increases of 29 percent in patrols, 112 percent in patrol hours, 182 percent in boardings, 50 percent in vessel seizures and 184 percent in search and rescue operations.

In 2016, then-Secretary of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson recognized the team with the Secretary's Unit Award for "unprecedented interagency collaboration" for CBSI and its support to coast guards in the Caribbean.

In 2017, the team received the 2017 Secretary of Defense Foreign Security Forces Maintenance Award for "outstanding achievement and excellence in all facets of maintenance mission support."

Editor's note: Debra Valine, Security Assistance Command Public Affairs, contributed to this article.