CAMP BULLIS, Texas (Sept. 18, 2009) -- Hundreds of Soldiers, Sailors, Marines and Airmen from all over the Western Hemisphere are here to conduct one of the largest multinational, joint exercises in the world - Fuerzas Aliadas PANAMAX 2009.

Fuerzas Aliadas PANAMAX is an annual exercise tailored to the defense of the Panama Canal against transnational threats. PANAMAX 2009 is designed to address a spectrum of possible threats, including terrorist acts against the canal, to ensure a multinational force can respond to any request for support from the government of Panama while respecting national sovereignty.

"PANAMAX brings together countries who have agreed to support the safety and security of the Panama Canal," said Col. Michael Feil, U.S. Army South, director of Operations. "Transnational terrorist organizations have an objective to influence countries to resist partnerships with the U.S. Attacking the Panama Canal will affect the goods that pass through which will encourage countries to listen to them."

Since the inception of this exercise in 2003, the exercise has grown from a primarily naval exercise involving three countries, to a multi-million-dollar exercise involving more than 4,500 participants and observers from 20 countries.

The participating countries understand the importance of the Panama Canal and its role in maintaining the livelihood and economy of the people in the region and are not taking a secondary role in the U.S. Southern Command exercise.

"Each country tackles problems a different way," said Brig. Gen. Sergio Mantilla, Colombian Army and deputy commander of the PANAMAX Forward Command Post. "They get to learn how we conduct exercises and military business in our country."

Ultimately Fuerzas Aliadas PANAMAX is about working together and learning from each other in order to promote trust and foster willingness for continued collaboration and teamwork. PANAMAX offers the opportunity to strengthen the ability to operate together which ultimately strengthens security of the hemisphere.

"We have representatives from over a dozen countries here," said Feil of the simulated ground portion of the exercise held at Camp Bullis. "We are sustaining interoperability, sustaining teamwork and ensuring that Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen and Marines appreciate our strengths and capabilities."

Participants and observers include forces from Argentina, Belize, Brazil, Canada, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, El Salvador, Guatemala, Netherlands, Nicaragua, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, the United States and Uruguay.

The ground portion of the exercise is being conducted at Fort Sam Houston and Camp Bullis, both in San Antonio from Sept. 13-21.