The U.S. Navy is pursuing an active partnership with nations throughout the Americas, and a tour by the USS Swift is one of its most recent manifestations.
The high-speed vessel has been to Panama twice since the beginning of the year, training students in the National Air and Maritime Service and the national police. U.S. Navy personnel have taught courses on waterborne security, small boat navigation and repair as well as port security. After completing instruction, the Panamanians will know how to conduct seaborne escort missions and high-speed evasive maneuvers.
The U.S. sailors also offered a life-saving course and distributed $182,000 in medical supplies, surgical instruments and clothing.
During an earlier stop in Colombia, Swift sailors and members of the Colombian navy together spruced up an old school in the coastal city of Cartagena, scraping and painting the walls for an excited group of kindergarten and elementary school children. For some American sailors, it was an opportunity to break away from typical tourist diversions, form new friendships and make a difference in a local community.
Before the school rehab, Swift crew members turned over a ton of medical supplies to a Colombian charity for distribution. Under the Project Handclasp program, U.S. naval vessels transport donated humanitarian goods in unused cargo space and deliver them at scheduled ports of call.
Training was also offered on how to use nonlethal weapons to control crowds — a fancy way to describe improving security through the use of pepper spray and tight anti-riot personnel formations.
*Personnel Train For Disaster, Tourist Protection*
The Swift’s five-month deployment to seven countries is part of a broader program known as the Southern Partnership Station, or, in Navy parlance, “SPS.” Every year the Navy sends ships to Central America, South America and the Caribbean to participate with partner nations in missions aimed at developing and testing the ability of civil and maritime services to respond to any number of situations.
Sharing expertise is an invaluable way to promote military-to-military communications, in the view of the U.S. military. Such sharing also improves regional security needed to deal with transnational challenges, such as a colossal disaster, that are too great for a single nation to handle.
During the Swift’s visit to Barbados, the focus was on subjects including harbor and airport security and small arms marksmanship. The Barbadian Royal Defense Forces were joined by personnel from Dominica, Grenada, St. Kitts and Nevis, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, Antigua and Barbuda, and St. Lucia for the port-security portion of the training — a subject that is crucial for the tourism industry. The program generates a beneficial ripple effect as newly trained personnel go back home and set up their own training programs.
Hands-on training in Barbados and aboard the Swift included pier, vehicle and container inspections and warehouse profiling, as well as anti-terrorism techniques.
The Swift still has scheduled port calls in Nicaragua and the Dominican Republic. It is carrying personnel from the Navy’s Expeditionary Training Command, the Naval Investigation Service Security Training and Assessment Team, and the Marine Corps Training and Advisory Group as well as many information system technicians to help install and train partner nations on a new computer-based vessel identification program.
During a stop in Port Antonio this year, the Jamaican Defense Force talked about counternarcotics missions and real-world problems. Swift teams were able to tailor training to the Jamaicans’ specific needs.
In 2008, the Swift stopped in El Salvador, where combat leadership training was one of a number of specialized offerings. Swift Commander Christopher Barnes said the training experience was meant to build lasting partnerships, establish enduring relationships and enhance maritime security.
The Southern Partnership Station initiative operates under the direction of the U.S. Southern Command based in Miami. The command oversees U.S. contacts in 31 countries in the region.
The commander of the U.S. 4th Fleet said SPS 2009 “provides an excellent opportunity to facilitate cooperation, interaction and communication between regional partners’ civil and maritime services.” Rear Admiral Joseph Kernan said side-by-side training with partners will help build “strong relationships, improve interoperability and enhance regional maritime security.”