Kukulkán Again Patrols the Pacific Ocean
By Lorena Baires/Diálogo January 18, 2017The Pacific Ocean is the strategic center of gravity for multiple global concerns, such as security. It is against this backdrop that the naval academies of several countries train their future officers to meet new defense challenges at sea. In late November 2016, the Guatemalan Naval Academy fired up the engines of the warship Kukulkán with 41 crew members aboard, including officers, petty officers, cadets, and technical staff from the Guatemalan Navy. One of the main academic goals of the exercise was to expand the students’ knowledge by sharing experiences with their counterparts from other navies in the region. In December, the training ship moored at La Unión Naval Base, to the east of the city of San Salvador, as part of its final exercise for 2016. Frigate Captain Maynor Joel Perdomo, commander of the Kukulkán training ship, highlighted the importance of that type of training. “Training our future navy sailors on how to maintain security along our shores, and knowing how other nations such as El Salvador, Nicaragua, or Panama do that, is a priority because we have the joint regional task of combating threats, and all of us need to be prepared and know how to work as a team.” The security of the Pacific coasts is the first order of business for the service members of this Central American isthmus, as organized transnational criminal organizations use its waters as a corridor to move shipments of drugs from South America to the United States. “The development of these cruises benefits both countries [Guatemala and El Salvador], because it allows us to refine all of the logistics that we set in motion in cases where teamwork comes into play. Our naval forces in this region are in coordination to fight problems as serious as illicit trafficking,” Captain Exón Ascencio Albeño, commanding officer of La Unión Naval Base, explained to Diálogo. “It was very meaningful for us to learn the procedures for bringing a cruiser into port and attending to the technicalities of its arrival, putting our logistics into action,” said Navy Cadet Eduardo López, a representative of the Naval Academy of El Salvador. “We also heard about certain lessons that our colleagues have had on the high seas, and that gives us a frame of reference for launching our own cruise.” For his part, Capt. Albeño added that “the good relations between both countries and our technical cooperation in fighting against these emerging threats keep the Salvadoran cadets motivated. Our cadets are always interested in learning how our neighboring countries’ navies meet security challenges on the high seas.” Lighthouses in the Pacific The experience of welcoming their foreign peers fuels the students’ confidence in the skills learned in the classroom. “It is important to practice all kinds of navigation — dead reckoning, coastal, electronic, and astronomical navigation — because we use different equipment for each one, and they are all key to getting from one point to another,” said Cadet Carlos Castillo, a representative of the Guatemalan Naval Academy. Members of the crew aboard the 105-foot-long Kukulkán explained to Diálogo how they put their sky navigation into practice, as well as the skills of electronic navigation, equipment operation, diesel mechanics, gunnery, alarm control, and the laws as they apply to the onboard search and rescue vessels and in maritime interdiction and boarding. “We have spoken with our Salvadoran colleagues about the importance of practicing all kinds of navigation, depending on your specialty, because you might be called on to use it at any time,” said Navy Cadet Manuel Guerra, from the Guatemalan Naval Academy. “Teamwork is essential, especially because different naval specialties come together aboard ship, and each person carries out a special function.” The instructors allowed them to be in control of the machinery so they could better assess the cadets. “It is a huge challenge for all of us to be here facing these conditions at sea, which can change from one moment to the next and where you can show what was learned in the classroom,” said Navy Cadet Cecilia Castillo, from the Guatemalan Naval Academy. For the students, each deployment represents a new learning experience about the various naval technologies at their disposal. “This visit is hugely important because we can learn other nations’ academic curriculum of the high seas. And we take in those new bits of learning, which can reinforce our own experience,” Capt. Albeño noted. The excellent relationship between both military institutions allows for these kinds of activities to be developed. The Naval Training and Education Center of the Salvadoran Navy is already planning cruises for 2017 that will no doubt offer a new opportunity to show their mettle against the ocean and meet the responsibility of ensuring security in their waters.