17 nations partner for PANAMAX 2010 Exercise

17 nations partner for PANAMAX 2010 Exercise

By Dialogo
August 30, 2010

The base was again the scene of a massive relief effort in Latin America this week as Airmen worked with sister services, non-governmental organizations, 17 partner nations and local governments to speed aid to a hurricane-ravaged island.

The only difference between this operation and previous efforts is the island doesn’t exist and the natural disaster is playing out on computer screens at the 612th Combined Air Operations Center — the whole scenario is part of Exercise Panamax, a multi-national exercise led by U.S. Southern Command.

Panamax is a yearly exercise focused on the defense of the Panama Canal, ensuring free trade and commercial traffic through the vital waterway. In addition, Air Forces Southern is also simulating a full-scale relief operation in the fictitious country of Centralia, an island near the canal suffering from a massive hurricane.

Airmen from 17 partner nations including Argentina, Belize, Brazil, Canada, Chile, Colombia, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, El Salvador, Guatemala, Mexico, Nicaragua, Panama, Paraguay, Peru and Uruguay are working together within the scenario. In addition, the United Nations World Food Program is working within the coalition command center to practice the integration of non-governmental organizations into the simulated relief operations.

The international cooperation within the Panamax exercise is found at every level; in fact, a general officer from Chile is working as the deputy combined forces air component commander alongside Lt. Gen. Glenn Spears, the 12th Air Force (Air Forces Southern) commander. Maj. Gen. Cesar Mac-Namara expressed his thanks and admiration for the level of integration found among the Airmen working in Tucson.

“We’re very grateful for the invitation and this exercise is an opportunity for Air Forces to work together, learn together and prepare for the future together….I’m honored to be a part of this event,” said the general.

The chief air transport officer with the United Nations World Food Program, Alvaro Gonzalez Peña, is working at the fictitious Regional Air Movement Control Center with Panamax participants to coordinate the integration of non-governmental organizations, foreign nations and military aircraft into a synchronized plan to maximize aircraft throughput into Centralia. The native of Uruguay is no stranger to working with the AFSOUTH team; he was on the ground in Haiti after the January earthquake and is a veteran of dozens of relief operations.

“This is a realistic simulation — it’s on time….while the experiences of Haiti are fresh in our minds we are able to have training that will improve the close contacts between the military and civilians,” explained Mr. Peña. “One of the most important things to come out of this event is that we will know the person on the other end of the phone for the next time.”

Maj. John Sedlacek, the deputy chief of the 612th CAOC Air Mobility Division, echoed his newfound compatriot’s sentiments — he’s sure the men and women working within the Panamax scenario will likely be alongside his team again in the future.

“We’ve learned a lot of lessons from our work in Haiti and Chile earlier this year,” said Major Sedlacek. “By practicing and building on these multi-national relief operations, we’re ready for the inevitable next natural disaster — we have to practice together to ensure we’re able to react quickly in the future….not as strangers, but as friends who shared common experiences and training.”