NAVAL STATION MAYPORT, FLA. -- Marines with the 22nd Marine Expeditionary Unit recently took part in PANAMAX 12, a multinational training exercise at Naval Station Mayport, Fla., Aug. 6-17, 2012.
The exercise is an annual U.S. Southern Command sponsored exercise that focuses on ensuring the protection and safe passage of traffic through the Panama Canal – one of the most strategically and economically crucial pieces of infrastructure in the world.
Participants in PANAMAX 12 used the exercise as an opportunity to strengthen interoperability and build joint capabilities between nations to plan and execute multilateral operations.
“It was a great opportunity for the MEU staff to start learning to work together by encountering some of the real world challenges that we’ll have,” said Gunnery Sgt. Gary Beals, chemical, biological, radiological, and nuclear chief for the 22nd MEU, and a New Orleans native. “We just finished one of the largest [North American Treaty Organization] exercises with Operation Unified Protector, so any chance we can get to work with multinational forces and start from the ground up, makes us better for the next time we go into that situation.”
During the exercise, participants worked together through scenarios that affect security in the Panama Canal. The exercise tested command and control of forces across a spectrum of operations, including maritime, air, land, space and cyber.
Participants also had the opportunity to exchange ideas and experiences with other nations, which will lead to valuable partnerships during future ground and maritime operations.
“The staff here was exposed to staff similar to personnel we will be working with in the future as well as coalition forces we may work with,” said Lt. Col. John Kelley, operations officer for the 22nd MEU, and a Madison, Wis., native. Kelley went on to add that while the 22nd MEU may work with different personnel and partnering nations on future deployments, the relationships will remain the same.
The participation of the 22nd MEU gave foreign militaries a chance to learn about the MEU and the Marine Air-Ground Task Force concept.
“We spent a great deal of time educating everyone on what a MEU is … The big benefit is the ability to really showcase what our capabilities are to other militaries,” said Kelley. “Everybody benefited from having MEU personnel there with that experience explaining the nuances of command and control as well as employment.”
More than 1,000 service members from Belize, Brazil, Canada, Chile, Colombia, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, El Salvador, France, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico, Nicaragua, Panama, Paraguay, Peru and the United States participated in this year’s exercise.