USNS Spearhead Concludes Training Mission in 4 Latin American Partner Nations

USNS Spearhead Concludes Training Mission in 4 Latin American Partner Nations

By Dialogo
October 19, 2015

It's good that the Central American countries strenuously work and train to fight illegal drug trafficking. Thank you to SOUTHCOM for facilitating this kind of training for the countries!

The USNS Spearhead recently ended a 2015 training mission that was part of the U.S. Navy’s annual series of deployments aimed at fostering lasting relationships with host nations by promoting and enhancing regional stability and security.

Southern Partnership Station–Joint High Speed Vessel 2015 (SPS-JHSV 15) gave Military officials from the U.S., Honduras, Belize, Guatemala, and Colombia the opportunity to share their experiences and learn from each other. The mission, which occurred between June and October, is a U.S. Southern Command (SOUTHCOM)-directed operation planned by U.S. Naval Forces Southern Command (USNAVSO) and the U.S. Fourth Fleet.

“The mission is special because each of the Adaptive Force Packages (AFPs), which are specialized teams of joint-service personnel, are able to deploy to the countries for longer periods of time than traditional U.S. Navy deployments,” Lieutenant Commander Nathan Harvey, SPS-JHSV 15 Mission Operations Officer, said in an interview with Diálogo.
“This allows for enhanced partner-building exercises that strengthen our relationships with our counterparts and allow us to improve our interoperability.”

Successful exchange of ideas

“This mission has been successful in the exchange of ideas, in training in medical readiness, and EOD.”

The latter training sessions were held during different components of the mission. In Belize and Colombia, U.S. Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD) divers and technicians covered more than 60 training topics with their local counterparts. And in Guatemala, medical AFPs and Guatemalan medical teams participated in a joint effort Medical Civics Action Program (MEDCAP), during which more than 400 women were given prenatal care and many children were treated for parasitic infections. Additionally, personnel tended to more than 250 patients and conducted Subject Matter Expert Exchanges (SMEEs) to assist in future medical procedures. The courses were aimed at personnel from the Marine Brigade, the Caribbean Naval Command, and the Special Operations Jungle and Naval Special Forces Brigade.

"The idea of ​​this type of Military exchanges is to update knowledge in [both] the fight against organized crime and new underwater search and rescue techniques," said Guatemalan Army spokesman Colonel Hugo Rodriguez. “The support given by the United States in the fight against organized crime and drug trafficking is important. The cooperation between the two countries has been positive for Guatemala in its goal of defeating criminals.”

The United States has also supported the Central American nation with humanitarian and medical assistance through the hospital-ship Comfort, in which 10,000 low-income Guatemalans were seen in various medical areas, between April 22 and May 2.

The USNS Spearhead, a 103-meter-long catamaran capable of transporting approximately 600 tons of Military troops, vehicles, supplies, and equipment up to 1,200 nautical miles at an average speed of 35 knots, can operate in shallow-draft, austere ports, and waterways. The U.S. Navy’s Military Sealift Command operates vessel, one of four under contract to Military Sealift Command; a crew of 26 civil Service Mariners navigates and maintains the platform, and the number of military personnel embarked was based on mission requirements, ranging from 104 service members for extended durations to 312 personnel for transits up to 96 hours.

Combat and ordnance training in Honduras

During the four-nation tour, the USNS Spearhead teams trained and worked with partner nations’ Militaries and security forces on locally identified needs, such as port security, non-commissioned officer professional development, operational risk management, and medical readiness, among others. It anchored on its first mission stop in Honduras on July 11, where U.S. Navy Hospital Corpsmen taught a Combat Lifesaver course to Honduran Naval students in Puerto Castilla. In the same port, EOD technicians trained Honduran divers in the use of an underwater handheld sonar devise known as AN/PQS-2A to locate objects; meanwhile, in Trujillo, AFP builders and equipment operators assisted in a water reservoir repair project.

“We accomplished quite a lot while in Honduras,” said Commander Robert Toth, commander of the AFP for SPS-JHSV 2015 and the commanding officer of Explosive Ordnance Disposal Mobile Unit (EODMU) 6.

“Working alongside the Honduran Buzos de Combate [Combat divers] unit, the EOD and dive teams conducted SMEEs,” said Ensign Adam Pierce, EOD platoon officer-in-charge. “We engaged in demolition operations, diving, and underwater sonar techniques, while forging relationships that will benefit both nations in the near future.”

A team of U.S. Marines assigned to the 8th Engineer Support Battalion in Camp Lejeune in North Carolina was deployed to support SPS-JHSV15 operations in Honduras and later in Guatemala. In Honduras, water purification specialists cleaned 5,000 gallons of water for the local community using their Lightweight Water Purification System (LWPS).

Belize, Guatemala, and Colombia

Following its stop in Honduras, the Spearhead went to Belize, where U.S. Navy Divers and EOD technicians trained and conducted SMEEs with their counterparts to improve the Central American country’s fight against illicit trafficking and disposal of explosives.

“During our two-and-a-half weeks in Belize, we conducted five days of demolition operations, including two days of an ordinance disposal operation,” said Ensign Pierce, who participated in the operation, which included the disposal of nine 81-mm mortar rounds that were no longer serviceable and were a safety hazard to the ammunition storage point in Hattieville. “Additionally, we conducted diving familiarization training which directly improved the maritime safety capabilities of Belize's Coast Guard (BCG) and Defense Force (BDF).”

The USNS Spearhead made its third stop in Guatemala from August 25-September 14, when U.S. Navy Divers provided training and conducted SMEEs with their counterparts to bolster the Central American nation’s counter-trafficking fight.

“The Guatemalan divers were eager to learn our diving techniques,” said Navy Diver 1st Class Joseph Olin of Mobile Diving and Salvage Company 31 from EODMU3, stationed in San Diego, California. “We started in the pool reviewing basic diving procedures and practiced different searching methods. By the end of our time in Guatemala, we were conducting searches off a pier in open water."

In its final stop, the USNS Spearhead visited the port of Cartagena, Colombia, from mid-September through mid-October. There, U.S. Navy service members assisted the local community while strengthening ties with their Military partners in the 4th Fleet’s AOR, according to a SOUTHCOM statement.

“The Seabees will be building and teaching the Colombian engineers how to create a road challenge course,” Lieutenant Sean McSwain, from NMCB 133, said upon arriving in Colombia. “This is the first country where the Seabees are able to conduct SMEEs.”

At the same time, a team of Navy divers and technicians were deployed from Puerto Barrios, Guatemala, to conduct SMEEs in Colombia. “The Colombian divers have a great diving program, which allows us on to focus on advanced techniques,” Ensign Pierce said. In previous countries, divers and EOD personnel worked together during SMEEs, but in Colombia, they focused on rating specific specialties and teaching two different groups.

The mission was not the first time the USNS Spearhead arrived in Belize, Honduras, Guatemala, and Colombia, as the vessel stopped in those countries in support of SPS-JHSV 14 in 2014, when it also visited the Dominican Republic.

“By visiting the same countries, we are able to expand and improve on our previously established relationships with our host nation counterparts,” Lt. Cmdr Harvey said. “This offers greater flexibility in useful training and provides the opportunity to offer assistance in critical mission areas for each country.

Raúl Barreno Castillo contributed to this story from Guatemala City, Guatemala.