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Operation Southern Partner begins in Caribbean

VICTORIA, Grenada -- Security Forces members followed Grenadian Police forces kicking in doors at their training facility. An Air Force CATM instructor checked a weapons storage facility for safety and security measures. Members of the Guardian Angel weapons system instructed a group in mountaineering and high-angle recovery techniques. These and many more exchanges marked the first days of Operation Southern Partner in St. Lucia, Grenada, Barbados and Guyana.

OSP is planned and executed by members of Twelfth Air Force (Air Forces Southern) at Davis Monthan Air Force Base, Ariz. The theatre engagement team at AFSOUTH augments the operation with subject matter experts from across the Air Force to provide intensive, periodic subject matter exchanges with partner nation Air Forces in the US Southern Command area of focus.

It's a complex task requiring close coordination between partner nations and Airmen. "There are always challenges when you have a large group of people spread out over hundreds of square miles, requiring airlift and on scene support to engage in dozens of unique tasks," explained Lt. Col. Alan Struthers, the mission commander and 12th AF (AFSOUTH) Theatre Security Cooperation Division chief. "Participating nations and Air Force experts have come together to make this event a success. In some locations, the first day of OSP was a holiday, but we had full participation -- everyone involved valued this opportunity to exchange ideas."

Exchanges are meant to have long-term benefit to participating nations, even in areas outside the usual military focus. "In St. Lucia, officials have found that tourists often wander off posted trails and get lost or trapped in mountainous areas," said Colonel Struthers. "The Air Force is bringing mountaineering experts to assist the host nation in developing indigenous expertise to find, rescue and retrieve these hikers --these are activities not normally associated with Airmen, but Air Force search and rescue teams have a unique skill set that benefits our joint team in combat and will benefit partner nations in the Caribbean."

Master Sgt. Matt Gadziala, the Twelfth Air Force First Sergeant, led the first-ever Professional Military Education and Leadership exchange with members of the Royal Grenada Police Force. The 18 police and Coast Guard participants discussed topics ranging from "How to Paint your Canvas" (a block of instruction on image management), to counseling, retention, leadership and "How to Build a Senior NCO" (the building blocks of leadership for non-commissioned officers).

"The first day of my exchange with the Police Force proved to me that leaders face many of the same challenges wherever they work," said Sergeant Gadziala. "Despite the differences in the makeup of our services, there were so many lessons we could take away....I was immediately welcomed by their team and learned as much as I felt I was teaching."

The police also invited Sergeant Gadziala to partake in a traditional Grenadian lunch and peppered him with questions even after the day's plans had ended.

"That's what this program is all about, building future leaders within partner nations while building relationships with our peers today," added Sergeant Gadziala.

While the primary focus of OSP is mil-to-mil partnership, Airmen also began community outreach efforts in local communities. In Grenada, the Air Force Academy Band, Blue Steel, performed a concert in a public park near the main port district of St. George within hours of arriving in country. Local citizens stopped by with family and friends to watch as the band performed American classic rock, rhythm and blues, and invited local performers to join in for several sets. The concert lasted well into the evening, stopping traffic on a main thoroughfare as curious onlookers slowed down and parked just to catch a glimpse.

The next morning, Blue Steel drove to the other side of the island to spend the day with at the Father Mallaghan's Home for Boys, a home for abused or abandoned boys sponsored by the Catholic Church in the town of Victoria. The band later performed another public concert in a nearby park.

Operation Southern Partner exchanges and community relations events continue in seven Caribbean nations through 13 June.

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