In the volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous environment in which we live today, partnerships become the most important operational approach to face global and regional challenges. Threats to our regional security and prosperity are not delineated by physical borders; they operate across multi-domains (land, maritime, air, space, and cyberspace) within the Western Hemisphere and globally.
Acknowledging this reality, U.S. Southern Command (SOUTHCOM) articulates its operations, activities, and investments (OAI) in three very delineated but, at the same time, interdependent lines of effort (LOE). “Strengthening Partnerships” becomes the first of SOUTHCOM’s LOEs depicting the importance of strong relationships and trust to face the challenges in the region. There are threats to U.S. national security or the security and stability of our neighbors such as transnational crime, violent extremism, or the malign actions of state and non-state actors.
Therefore, the second LOE for this command is “Countering Threats.” Being able to execute the previous LOEs requires more than strategies, tasks or activities, it requires a capable and articulated team. “Building Our Team” is the third of SOUTHCOM’s LOEs. Achieving the required level of efficiency and readiness requires hard and continuous preparation and that is what this Command provides on a daily basis.
SOUTHCOM, through its headquarters (HQ) and components, accomplishes these LOEs in the region and more precisely in its area or responsibility (AOR), which is Central America, South America, and the Caribbean. This article focuses on the Command’s efforts through its J7/9 (Exercises and Coalition Affairs) Directorate to strengthen partnerships, not only with our partners, but also with the U.S. government (USG) and civil society giving this approach a holistic perspective. The J7/9 achieves the commander’s intent by leveraging whole of society partnerships, exercises, civil affairs operations, and humanitarian assistance activities to advance security, governance, and economic opportunity to deter aggression, defeat threats, rapidly respond to crises, and build regional capacity (see figure 1). The J7/9 leads the third LOE “Building Our Team,” while enhancing the first LOE “Strengthening Partnerships.”
SOUTHCOM is the first and only Combatant Command to have a foreign general officer as a director within its organization. The J7/9 director is a Colombian Army brigadier general, which represents a total acknowledgment of trust and partnership between the U.S. and partner nations (PN). The J7/9 has found innovative methods to further SOUTHCOM mission by driving a “partner first” attitude to harness the power of the USG interagency, civil society, and PN partnerships to deliver the best capabilities to the Command’s OAIs. This has been accomplished through the myriad of tools J7/9 brings to bear such as command training, exercises, science and technology, and civil military operations, and has resulted in major contributions to the national security of the United States. This organization allows the directorate to have a holistic approach concerning the first LOE “Strengthening Partnerships,” becoming a key directorate for SOUTHCOM’s enduring promise.
One of the most effective ways to strengthen partnerships with our PNs is to work together and build trust and interoperability based on shared values and principles. In our region, most countries also share respect for human rights, rule of law, and democracy. At the same time, we face similar challenges and threats that should be addressed in a regional, holistic approach to ensure security, stability, and prosperity for our nations and the region. To achieve this, SOUTHCOM’s J7/9, through its Training and Exercise Division, plans, coordinates, and oversees execution of the Joint Exercise Program and selected deployments for training to maintain trained and ready forces, exercise contingency plans, support the SOUTHCOM Campaign Plan (SCP), and achieve joint and combined training. Each year SOUTHCOM executes more than 10 joint/combined exercises and 50 deployments for training building readiness for over 8,000 U.S. military, civilian, and interagency partners. Simultaneously, these exercises involve PN military, security forces, and interagency members from 35 nations for an average total of 3,500 personnel trained each year.
The exercises overseen by SOUTHCOM’s J7/9 are divided into two broad categories: operational and foreign military interaction (FMI) exercises. The first category, operational exercises, helps build readiness within the SOUTHCOM HQ while also having robust PN and/or interagency involvement. The second category, FMI exercises, focuses on U.S. forces training with PNs in the AOR.
PANAMAX (PMX) is a multinational command post exercise (CPX) focused on the security of the Panama Canal and the surrounding region. This exercise stresses the use of combined/joint operations to achieve holistic and integrated responses to transnational threats, humanitarian crises, and natural disasters. PMX began in 2003 with three countries and has grown to include almost every country in the region. In 2018, PMX’s full scale CPX involved around 2,050 U.S. and 550 personnel from 24 invited PNs and included a crisis action planning phase hosted by Panama. PNs take the lead to plan and execute portions of the exercise. In 2020, Argentina will lead the Maritime Component, Brazil the Land Component, Chile will be the deputy commander of the Multinational Force, Colombia the Air Component, Peru the Special Operations Component, and Panama will lead Task Force Alpha.
PANAMAX ALPHA (PMX-A) is a bilateral joint and combined exercise planned and executed by the Panamanian government with the United States. Similar to PMX, PMX-A also focuses on the security of the Panama Canal and the surrounding region to achieve a holistic and integrated response to transnational threats, humanitarian crises, and natural disasters. The exercise is conducted in two phases. Phase I consists of academic instruction supported by the U.S. Coast Guard (USCG), Defense Threat Reduction Agency, and the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation, and a CPX focused on unilateral security measures by Panama. Phase II consists of bilateral planning and a CPX focused on security operations supported by Task Force Galleon from the Missouri National Guard, Panama’s state partner.
Integerated Advance (IA) is a U.S. only exercise developed to examine whole of government solutions to challenges within SOUTHCOM’s AOR and is dedicated to improving our integration with federal and local partners within the context of SOUTHCOM contingency plans. The exercise is executed on a biennial basis as a CPX, with a focus on whole of government actions to foreign humanitarian assistance/disaster response (HA/DR). The exercise is executed in different locations based on the specific scenarios where SOUTHCOM’s HQ and components interact with U.S. agencies and organizations. In 2019, over 2,000 personnel were trained from the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) and U.S. interagency partners to include national, state, and local agencies.
Fused Response (FR) is a U.S. Special Operations Command South- (SOCSOUTH) led operational CPX and field training exercise (FTX) designed to improve crisis action planning, readiness, interoperability, and capability of special operations forces (SOF) in support of regional crises and overseas contingency operations. It is executed annually to validate readiness to execute contingency plans and rapidly deploy to resolve a crisis in the AOR. Additionally, the exercise enhances the integration, training, and readiness of the SOF and strengthens our partnerships in the SOUTHCOM AOR. In 2018, the exercise was executed in Trinidad and Tobago and Barbados and incorporated the full deployment of SOCSOUTH and U.S. Department of State personnel to resolve a hostage crisis in the region. During this exercise, approximately 1,200 personnel were trained, with about 900 from DoD, 80 from interagency partners, and 220 from two PNs.
Foreign Military Interaction
Fuerzas Comando (FC) is a SOCSOUTH-led special operations skills competition and senior leader seminar (SLS) designed to enhance multinational and regional cooperation. It enhances multinational and regional cooperation, trust, and confidence in addition to increasing the readiness, interoperability, and capabilities of the SOF to execute contingency operations. The Joint Special Operations University supports the SLS through curriculum development and facilitated discussions with our PNs’ senior leaders charged with developing and implementing policies to counter threat networks in the region. The exercise is hosted annually by a PN in the AOR. Participants include special operations military and security forces from 28 PNs, which includes 200 personnel from SOCSOUTH and 280 participants from PNs.
In 2019, Chile hosted this competition where special operations teams competed against one another through a series of related skills events and exchanged best practices. The Colombian Special Operations Team won the competition for the 10th time. During the FC SLS, senior leaders discussed major themes and lessons learned relating to countering threat networks. It included invitations to over 30 PNs including an engagement opportunity with the chiefs of Defense, senior policy/decision-makers on countering terrorism, and SOF commanders from each PN. Colombia will host the 2020 FC competition, reinforcing the regional partnership.
UNITAS (ATLANTIC/PACIFIC) is the oldest continuous multinational exercise in the U.S. military. UNITAS involves maritime interdiction operations, anti-surface, and anti-air operations. This U.S. Naval Forces Southern-led exercise is the primary vehicle for promoting naval interoperability in the Southern Hemisphere. Conducted as a multinational FTX, this exercise promotes inter-American security cooperation through an operational level exercise based on real world scenarios in a robust maritime warfare training environment. In 2018, both UNITAS Atlantic and Pacific were combined as a single exercise in Colombia and trained over 700 U.S. and 3,500 multinational personnel from Argentina, Australia, Chile, Colombia, the Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Guatemala, Honduras, Indonesia, Italy, Panama, Mexico, Peru, Spain, and the United Kingdom. In 2019, Chile hosted UNITAS Pacific and Brazil hosted UNITAS Atlantic.
UNITAS Amphibious is a U.S. Marine Corps Forces South-led multinational exercise — either a table top exercise (TTX) or FTX — for promoting amphibious interoperability in the Southern Hemisphere, and facilitating inter-American security cooperation through an exercise based on real world scenarios in a robust training environment. In 2018, UNITAS Amphibious was a crisis planning event hosted by Brazil and trained more than 20 marine and naval infantry force personnel from the United States and more than 50 Latin American marines. In 2019, both UNITAS Amphibious and UNITAS Atlantic were conducted in conjunction and hosted by Brazil (See article on page 34).
Humanitarian Allied Forces (FAHUM, in Spanish) is a U.S. Army South- (ARSOUTH) led Central American oriented HA/DR CPX/FTX. FAHUM is designed to build PN capacity to respond to a major disaster and strengthen hemispheric cooperation and collaboration between regional humanitarian entities and military/security forces in the Central American region. Almost 40 ARSOUTH and Joint Task Force Bravo personnel and 240 personnel from 14 PNs participate in this exercise on an annual basis. In 2018, the exercise was executed in Guatemala, and was carried out in the Dominican Republic in 2019, including 18 invited PNs and numerous international and interagency participants.
Tradewinds (TW) is a SOUTHCOM-led multinational and interagency focused CPX/FTX focused on rapid response for HA/DR and security related contingencies. TW is designed to train participants in combined security, peacekeeping, and selected maritime operations while also improving PN capability and interoperability in the Caribbean region to respond to a crisis in that region. Typically the exercise involves over 500 U.S. forces and 1,700 participants from 21 PNs, and interagency representatives from the host nation’s emergency operations centers, Caribbean Community, and Regional Security System. In 2019, TW was conducted in the Dominican Republic and Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, and included a security-focused phase and a TTX/FTX with key regional partners focused on the regional response to an HA/DR crisis.
Beyond the Horizon (BTH) and New Horizons (NH) are operational readiness training exercises focused on the readiness of U.S. military engineer, medical, and sustainment units. They are designed to increase the operational readiness of participating U.S. units by providing opportunities for the unit to deploy overseas to an austere environment and conduct training in a multinational/combined environment. The training conducted by the U.S. engineer, medical, and sustainment units promotes the security interests of the USG and promotes U.S. foreign policy interests, as well as supports the SCP by providing a tangible benefit to the local community where the exercise is conducted. Engineer training is primarily focused on performing construction operations through construction of rudimentary surface transportation systems, well drilling, construction of basic sanitation facilities, and rudimentary construction and repair of public facilities.
Medical training focuses on patient care operations and mission command for health services by providing medical, surgical, dental, and veterinary care in areas of a country that are rural or underserved by medical professionals. In 2018, the exercises included over 2,500 participants from eight nations. Over 2,300 U.S. personnel, primarily from reserve components, received training alongside nearly 255 PN personnel. Over 100 volunteers from 20 nongovernmental organizations (NGO) provided support and in-kind gifts to school children and clinical patients seen during the medical engagement projects. In 2019, BTH was executed in Guatemala, and Guyana hosted NH.
SOUTHCOM also conducts approximately 50 Medical Readiness Training Exercises (MEDRETE) every year that train over 1,000 U.S. personnel and treat over 100,000 patients in the AOR. MEDRETEs are conducted in coordination with the host nation military and Ministry of Health throughout the SOUTHCOM AOR.
In order to achieve a holistic approach to strengthening partnerships in the AOR, besides all the exercises described, SOUTHCOM’s J7/9 Directorate also integrates U.S. federal and non-federal entities, and international organizations in support of OAIs in the AOR. With a network of more than 100 U.S. agencies and non-federal entities, 126 NGOs, 25 foundations, and 50 academic institutions, J7/9 supports SOUTHCOM’s enduring promise by strengthening partnerships. This effort is supported by 17 civil affairs (CA) teams deployed in the AOR to meet the commander’s strategy intent.
Within the Directorate, the Civil Affairs Planning Detachment (CAPD) is a planning team tasked with the mission to advise the SOUTHCOM commander on matters related to civil affairs operations; civil-military operations; defense institution building; women, peace, and security; and PN military advisor integration. The detachment designs, coordinates, and/or integrates OAIs with the PNs and regional organizations to better understand, influence, and shape the operational environment to strengthen partnerships, counter threats, and build our team. The detachments’ efforts support the successful execution of SOUTHCOM’s Theater Strategy and Campaign Plan. Currently there are 17 CA teams deployed in the AOR under SOCSOUTH leadership. These teams accomplish a variety of missions. This detachment also provides support to various SOUTHCOM Exercises (e.g., PMX, IA, TW, FAHUM, and NH).
Deployed CA teams are available to be rapidly “re-missioned” (since they are already deployed throughout the region) to respond to a crisis within the AOR. In the recent past, CA assets have been re-missioned in support of SOUTHCOM’s response to hurricanes, earthquakes, and other natural or manmade disasters. These elements are well trained in working/coordinating with other USG agencies and PN military/civilian entities, as well as NGOs and private organizations in facilitating a coordinated response to an emergency. Working with our PN military advisors assigned to SOUTHCOM, particularly our French, Canadian, British, and Dutch partners, CAPD recently helped establish the Multinational Caribbean Coordination Cell (MNCCC). The MNCCC’s mission is to facilitate communications and the exchange of information between partners assisting in the response and the regional response agency, in this case, with the Caribbean Disaster Emergency Management Agency, headquartered in Barbados.
Another important part of the J7/9 is the Humanitarian Assistance and Humanitarian Mine Action (HA/HMA) Division. SOUTHCOM conducts HA/HMA activities to relieve or reduce endemic conditions such as human suffering, disease, hunger, privation, and the adverse effects of unexploded ordinances while advancing U.S. national security objectives. To accomplish this, SOUTHCOM receives Overseas Humanitarian, Disaster, and Civic Aid (OHDACA) appropriations to fund multiple HA/HMA activities that build PN capacity to provide essential services to their populations.
These activities also support PN efforts to prepare for, reduce the effects of, and respond to humanitarian disasters. Overall, these OHDACA funded programs offer a unique security cooperation tool vital for gaining access, visibility, and influence with the hemisphere and achieving campaign plan objectives. Since 2012, SOUTHCOM through the HA/HMA Division, has executed a total of over 4,000 HA/HMA projects to include disaster mitigation and preparation (881), health support (2,089), education support (848), basic infrastructure/engineering (450), and humanitarian mine actions (19).
Having strong partnerships between U.S. and international organizations, institutions, and entities integrated through a network is key for a holistic approach and support to SOUTHCOM’s OAIs in the AOR. This is achieved through two of the J7/9’s divisions, Public-Private Cooperation Division (PPC) and Interagency Integration Division (INT).
The PPC Division integrates Non-Federal Entities (NFE) in a whole of society effort to promote security, stability, and prosperity within the SOUTHCOM AOR by identifying opportunities for contribution of NFE goods and services that complement SC initiatives, operations, and exercises. It also facilitates access of NFE subject matter expertise on challenges of mutual interest to enhance analysis and improve decision-making while providing venues for senior leadership to share/refine Command messages, insights, and perspectives. In 2018, PPC coordinated 90 volunteer medical/dental professionals, top-tier universities and NGOs to enhance U.S. Navy Hospital Ship USNS Comfort’s capabilities by 15 percent in support of SOUTHCOM’s enduring promise in the AOR. The same year, during NH and BTH, PPC coordinated the participation of 35 NFE organizations and $1.3 million in donations.
The Enduring Promise/USNS Comfort 2019 operation once again showcased the tremendous commitment and capability of our NFE partners contributing medical services and donations to this important humanitarian operation that occurred June-November 2019 throughout the region (See article on page 58).
Currently, over 20 interagency representatives from 15 different agencies and departments are at SOUTHCOM HQ. During 2018, INT Division embedded U.S. Department of State political advisors (POLAD) aboard the USNS Comfort deployment for mission Enduring Promise. POLADs were central to the coordination with country teams and their success was broadcasted to the U.S. Chief of Naval Operations. The SOUTHCOM Technical Assistance Field Team won the U.S. Secretary of Defense Award for Excellence in Maintenance, Training, Advice, and Assistance of Foreign Security Forces in both 2017 and 2018. This reflects SOUTHCOM’s commitment to our partners in the Caribbean, and Central and South America.
In conclusion, SOUTHCOM is totally committed to strengthening partnerships in the region — a region linked not only by all domains (land, maritime, air, space, and cyberspace), but also by shared values and principles. With our partners in the USG, our PNs and civil society, SOUTHCOM will continue to uphold a holistic approach to enhance security, freedom, and prosperity in the Western Hemisphere.