For more than two weeks, units from the Panamanian Border Service (SENAFRONT, in Spanish) and the Panamanian Air and Naval Service (SENAN, in Spanish) joined members of U.S. Southern Command’s Joint Task Force Bravo (JTF-Bravo) to take part in the emergency response and humanitarian assistance exercise Mercury II, in the jungle region of Darién, bordering Colombia.
The exercise, carried out January 17-February 1, aimed to coordinate the forces’ response in disaster situations, in order to hone their expeditionary and readiness capabilities. During the exercise, the troops also transferred more than 300,000 kilograms of building materials and more than 6,000 bags of food, school kits, and medical supplies to 21 communities in Darién.
“I’m very impressed with the level of cooperation between Panamanian and U.S. forces; undoubtedly, this was a factor for this mission’s success,” U.S. Army Colonel John D. Litchfield, JTF-Bravo commander, said during the exercise’s closing ceremony. “It’s been inspiring to see the efforts of everyone involved. We are prepared for future crises. We were able to respond together during Hurricane Eta [in early November 2020]; every interaction is an opportunity to learn from each other.”
In a statement, SENAFRONT said that the building materials will be used to erect concrete classrooms with zinc roofs at 10 rudimentary schools. Two centers with computers and internet to provide local communities access to the digital world will also be build, as well as two police stations in the communities of Tupiza and Cannán Membrillo, areas where SENAFRONT troops patrol daily to combat transnational organized crime.
“With these new permanent police stations, we will be able to safeguard our border even more, making equal the right to security of the people who live in the regions,” SENAFRONT said.
Seven JTF-Bravo helicopters, including two CH-47 Chinooks and three UH-60 Blackhawks, took part in the exercise.
“It is a direct reflection of the dedication, commitment, and professionalism from our brothers and sisters in arms. This exercise, and the many like it, prove that together we can face any challenge to help save lives and reduce human suffering,” U.S. Army Master Sergeant Gustavo Robles, JTF-Bravo lead exercise planner, said.
“These operations are very helpful to our country and to our Public Force, and they strengthen its capabilities to better respond to upcoming challenges and provide an effective response to any contingency, through timely humanitarian aid,” Panamanian Minister of Public Security Juan Manuel Pino said.