MARINE CORPS BASE CAMP PENDLETON, Calif. -- Every day U.S. forces train with partner nations to combat global threats. The relationships built through these exercises allow the Marine Corps and its allies to function as a global force in readiness.
Recently, Marines and sailors with the 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit completed PANAMAX 2014, a seven-day multi-national exercise, which began Aug. 8, 2014. The exercise included American forces collaborating with 17 partner nations to protect traffic through the Panama Canal.
The annual training, sponsored by U.S. Southern Command, focused on responding to requests from the governments of Panama and Colombia to protect and guarantee safe passage of traffic through the Panama Canal, ensure its neutrality, and respect national sovereignty.
For the MEU it was an opportunity to train together before working-up for deployment.
"Overall, this was a great opportunity for the MEU [command element] to come together as a staff," said Col. Vance L. Cryer, commanding officer, 15th MEU. "Everyone contributed and did a great job. We were able to work through our initial processes of receiving orders, developing situational awareness, intelligence gathering, and developing concepts of operations and forwarding those recommendations to our higher headquarters."
Proper planning by all sections in the MEU played a crucial role in successfully demonstrating the unit’s capabilities.
“We’ve learned from every exercise we’ve done this year,” said Staff Sgt. Jesus Cuellar, cyber security manager, 15th MEU. “Everything relies on communications. Without [communications] the commander can’t get his orders out or receive intelligence crucial to the mission.”
Cuellar’s Marines were prepared for the challenges of sustaining solid communications throughout the exercise.
“Every exercise we’ve done this year helps us make sure we don’t lose [communications].” Cuellar said. “We look at what went right and identify possible pitfalls and plan accordingly. This sets us up for success for any follow on missions.”
This exercise proved especially beneficial for the MEU’s operations section, which had recently added new Marines to its team.
“Overall it was a great success for us. We have a lot of new faces that haven’t participated in the previous exercises,” said Capt. Cody Hoffman, target information officer, 15th MEU. “[PANAMAX 14] allowed us to see where we’re at as a fairly new team.”
Although the exercise was a success, Hoffman added his section has identified how they can improve the flow of information from different systems and sections.
“A lot of planning went into this exercise,” Hoffman said. “Planning will only get you so far. Until you get in there and see what you’re working with, you’re never going to know what’s wrong, or how to fix it.”
PANAMAX 14 is just one of several interoperability training exercises the 15th MEU has participated in this year. These exercises give the MEU an opportunity to familiarize themselves with how partner nations operate and learn new tactics, techniques, and procedures.
“These exercises give the Marines an opportunity to work together,” said Cuellar. “For example, Marines with the [communications section] learn how to work with the [logistics section] to get what we need to make sure we can complete the mission. This also gives the Marines an idea of what’s expected of them, but specifically for the next deployment.”
The training not only benefited the MEU, but contributed to the training efforts by other branches of the U.S. military and partner nations.
"Taking the Marine air-ground task force, and attaching it to an operational plan in [U.S. Southern Command] is a great opportunity to expose to their staff the capabilities of the MEU and learning what amphibious operations are all about," Cryer said. "It's important for Marines to see other geographical combatant commands, their components and their staff's plans because they have a different mission, and a different culture. It broadens our Marines experience base and strengthens the Corps' bonds across the region, as well as fosters strong relationships and an understanding among the partner nations, ultimately benefiting the security of the region."