Washington: Working with three Central American counterparts to help them build capability to counter transnational criminals, participants in Southern Partnership Station 2013 are supporting U.S. Southern Command’s outreach to the region, and by extension, U.S. national security, a Southcom official told American Forces Press Service.
After completing the first stop of their visit, to Belize, participants arrived last week in Guatemala, where they will remain through the month’s end, reported Navy Cmdr. Robert Skinner, maritime plans chief for Southcom’s future operations directorate. They then will continue on for bilateral engagements in Honduras before wrapping up the overall mission in late May.
Throughout the U.S. 4th Fleet operation, the focus is on building partner-nation capacity to help regional nations better stand up to challenges than transcend their national borders, Skinner said.
To support the mission, USNS Swift, a high-speed catamaran, left Mayport, Fla., in mid-February with an embarked command element and members of every military service and participants from the Coast Guard, the FBI and other government agencies.
The assigned units are focusing on locally identified needs, such as port security, noncommissioned officer professional development, operational risk management, medical readiness, outboard motor maintenance and patrol-craft operation, Navy Lt. Cmdr. Corey Barker, the 4th Fleet public affairs officer, reported.
In Belize, Seabees from Construction Battalion Maintenance Unit 202 built an open-bay structure to support Belize Defense Force operations while members of Riverine Squadron 2 helped their Belizean counterparts improve skills in interdiction and security team inserts and extractions on the water.
Meanwhile, agents from the Naval Criminal Investigative Service’s Security Training Assistance and Assessment Team Atlantic spent almost three weeks sharing law enforcement techniques with Belizean coast guard and police forces.
With the mission now unfolding in Guatemala, about 150 service members are concentrating their efforts on explosive ordnance disposal teams and riverine and law enforcement operations. Additionally, Seabees are helping to improve infrastructure at the Guatemalan military’s Kaibil base.
“Swift is a unique platform that allows us to make lasting bonds with our partner nations in Latin America,” said Navy Cmdr. Bob Poling, the mission commander. “What we do on this deployment will make a difference and it will have a lasting impact on our partners in the region.”
The Southern Partnership Station mission is part of Southcom’s broader Partnership of the Americas maritime engagement strategy, Skinner explained. Adopted in 2008, the strategy provides a coordinated, holistic approach to U.S. maritime engagement in Central and South America and the Caribbean.
Other key elements of the strategy include Continuing Promise, which features medical services and humanitarian and civic activities, and Southern Seas, which encompasses a variety of large-scale, multilateral exercises and exchanges designed to improve operational readiness and enhance relationships in the region, Skinner said.
Southern Partnership Station is more bilateral in nature, offering an opportunity for participants to focus on specific capability gaps partner nations identify. This, Skinner said, helps to make them stronger partners and enables them to play a greater role in confronting transnational criminals and drug traffickers that no single country can confront alone.
The mission, along with other Southcom-sponsored engagements in the theater, also promotes regional interoperability so nations can better work together to address these challenges, Skinner said.
“We feel we have common interests and security concerns,” he said. “The transitional challenges we have requires cooperative action among the different states. And by building up our partner nations, we are multiplying our own capabilities downrange.”
Southern Partnership Station also makes an important statement in reaffirming the United States’ commitment to its regional neighbors, Skinner said.
“We want to be an enduring partner,” he said. “We want to be their partner of choice.”
(By Donna Miles, American Forces Press Service. Navy Lt. Cmdr. Corey Barker, public affairs officer for the U.S. 4th Fleet, and Air Force Master Sgt. Chris Stagner contributed to this article.)