U.S. Southern Command’s (SOUTHCOM) Joint Task Force Bravo (JTF-Bravo) conducted the humanitarian assistance and disaster relief exercise Keel-billed Toucan (KBT) aimed at ensuring maximum disaster readiness, in Ladyville, Belize, January 7-18, 2022, the U.S. Embassy in Belize said in a statement.
Some 150 JTF-Bravo service members and U.S. Army helicopters deployed from Soto Cano Air Base, Honduras, to Price Barracks in Ladyville to carry out the exercise, the U.S. Embassy added.
During the exercise, JTF-Bravo strengthened its capabilities to safely and quickly mobilize personnel, assets, and supplies, while following strict COVID-19 protocols, the force said in a statement. Participating units also conducted survival, evasion, resistance, and escape (SERE) training exercises in the jungle.
In addition, JTF-Bravo doctors, in coordination with the Belizean Ministry of Health and Wellness, provided primary care, preventive medicine, dentistry, and pharmacy services to more than 775 residents of Jalacte and San Pedro Columbia, the U.S. Embassy said.
“Throughout the exercise, JTF-Bravo and the Army Forces Battalion worked hand-in-hand to ensure an effective portrayal of a real-world [humanitarian and disaster relief] operation,” U.S. Army Lieutenant Colonel Micah Baker, Army Forces Battalion commander, said.
Belize is extremely vulnerable to climate-related hazards, which directly threaten coastal populations, where more than 50 percent of residents live, the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) said on its website.
In 2020, hurricanes Nana, Eta, and Iota struck Belize. “These [hurricanes] brought unprecedented flooding, impacting over 30,000 individuals, and losses estimated at $80 million,” UNICEF indicated in early 2022.
In 1998, hurricane Mitch devastated more than 40 percent of Central America (including Belize), leaving some 11,000 people dead and more than 3.3 million homeless in the region. JTF-Bravo provided disaster relief assistance to the region, playing a vital role in search and rescue efforts, and delivering thousands of tons of food, medical supplies, and water.
More than two decades later, JTF-Bravo remains ready to respond when needed, with its unique airlift capabilities. “Joint Task Force Bravo is uniquely positioned and highly capable of providing rapid and effective assistance throughout the region in times of need,” U.S. Army Colonel Steven Gventer, JTF-Bravo commander, said.
Belize and the United States also maintain an ongoing partnership, working to strengthen regional security. On January 24, 2022, the U.S. government donated four high-performance vehicles to the Belize Joint Intelligence Operations Center (JIOC).
“The donation represents another step in the long and fruitful relations between Belize and the United States […]. The new fleet of vehicles will enhance our […] team’s ability to combat transnational organized crime,” Lieutenant Commander Freddie Ku, JIOC director, said.