Seven helicopters of U.S. Southern Command’s (SOUTHCOM) Joint Task Force Bravo (JTF-Bravo), together with units from the Panamanian National Border Service (SENAFRONT) and the Panamanian National Air and Naval Service (SENAN), completed exercise Keel Billed Toucan 2023 (KBT23) — known in Panama as Mercurio V — transporting 15.3 tons of humanitarian aid, May 2-15. Personnel from Panama’s Ministry of Health and Ministry of Education joined the exercise.
This type of exercise “allows us to be better prepared for any national or international disaster and to help the whole team in Panama to react,” U.S. Army Colonel Philip Brown, commander of JTF-Bravo, told Diálogo on May 30. “The good thing about this exercise is that we’re not just training; we’re really giving back, because we’re bringing medical and other aid to the communities, moving material to remote areas.”
The communities that benefitted from the support were Manené, Jaqué, and Puerto Piña, all in the province of Darién. The cargo consisted of some 400 bags with food, medicine, and medical supplies, which were distributed along with health care aid in the communities of Puerto Piña and Jaqué, where some 1,500 adults and children received medical attention in general medicine and dentistry.
Participating personnel also carried out four aerial missions to transport supplies and construction materials to SENAFRONT’s binational posts (Panama-Colombia) in Darién, thus guaranteeing operations in areas difficult to access, which Panamanian authorities assure are strategic in the fight against transnational criminal organizations.
In addition to delivering donations and providing medical checkups, participants of KBT23 also held preventive health talks and participated in beach clean-ups to promote the protection of the environment and bring communities together.
“This helps us to plan with entities like USAID and other humanitarian aid [institutions] to do things better in the future,” Col. Brown said. “Most importantly, the military [and security forces] train together and know how to respond to those moments.”
“In an increasingly interconnected world, international cooperation is fundamental to address regional challenges, such as natural disasters and humanitarian emergencies,” Panama’s Minister of Public Security Juan Pino told the press. “It’s important to highlight that the results obtained in this exercise only represent the beginning toward a better capability to respond to any emergency. We must continue to work together to improve and maintain our level of readiness for any situation that may arise.”
For SENAFRONT Director Oriel Ortega, this operation allowed them to reach the communities, to talk to the people, to see what they need in terms of education and health. “Then in coordination with [U.S.] Southern Command’s Joint Task Force Bravo we plan and choose the communities, [that we will serve] according to their needs.”
“On this occasion […] we took cargo to our binational bases to improve our units’ service quality,” Ortega said. “We are going to put new floors and we are going to fortify security structures with a molding system on the sides of the barracks to defend and protect our personnel, because these are areas of difficult access and at high risk of transnational threats.”
“Why is this important?” Col. Brown asked. “The faces we see, the families changed, the food, medicine, and schools [facilities] delivered. For this reason, we leave our families back in the U.S. to join you in caring for your communities. We are a team of teams.”