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Operation Southern Partner kicks off in Belize

BELIZE CITY, Belize -- Engineers, cooks, medics and other Belize Defence Force personnel gathered around windows and cockpit of a U.S. Air Force C-130J Hercules June 8 to see their country from a different perspective. 

J.A. Diffily, deputy chief of mission in Belize, joined the two-hour aerial tour to help kick-off Operation Southern Partner in Belize. In this exchange program, Airmen specializing in fire protection, maintenance, electrical, safety, security forces and para-rescue share experiences and expertise with their host nation counterparts. 

It's an interpersonal exchange Diffily said is 'invaluable'. 

"There is no substitute for friendship in the region," he said. "Goodwill is a force multiplier." 

The aerial tour of Belize showcased the country to the people who protect it, and provided Airmen with an opportunity to engage in dialogue about their experiences dealing with and working around aircraft. 

"A hands-on, practical experience, such as this, offers servicemembers from two nations the opportunity to share their experiences and discuss commonalities," said Maj. Kenny Sierra, Operation Southern Partner -- Caribbean deputy mission commander. 

Aircraft familiarization was not limited to the flight. 

Several firefighters here joined Tech. Sgt. Jayme Scammahorn, Operation Southern Partner lead firefighter, for an aircraft tour after they spent the day together discussing training programs, common challenges and processes. 

Stephen Stine, the officer in charge for the firefighter shift working at the time, said the station frequently supports a wide cross-section of military aircraft from English and Spanish-speaking countries. 

During his tour of the C-130J, crew members pointed out confined spaces, location of fuel storage, safety items and emergency procedures, and the group discussed the similarities between their tactics. 

"In terms of the way we attack the fire, and promote safety , teamwork, and accountability, we are very similar, Stine said. "We speak with the same tongue and voice." 

Sergeant Scammahorn said his counterparts have a similar training program to what his unit does in the United States. 

"An (inspector general) would be happy with these guys if they came in to inspect the program," he said. 

Sergeant Scammahorn said the Belize training program has similar monthly training and also includes some unique elements. 

"They send their firefighters to aircraft manufacturing plants to help them understand how the aircraft are made," he said. Sergeant Scamamhorn sent this tactic to his fire chief after the exchange as a suggested way for Airmen at his home station to better prepare for emergency response. 

Exchanges like this one, in addition to community outreach events, are scheduled in Belize through June 13.

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