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Twelfth Air Force (Air Forces Southern) prepares for busy 2009

  • Published
  • By Capt. Rebecca Garcia and Capt. Nathan D. Broshear
  • Twelfth Air Force (Air Forces Southern) Public Affairs
The planning stage is well underway and several missions have already begun in what will prove to be another banner year for the men and women of Twelfth Air Force (Air Forces Southern) and the civilian, non-governmental organizations, and partner nations assisting in the U.S. Southern Command area of focus.

As the air component to U.S. Southern Command, AFSOUTH works with partner nation Air Forces in Central, South America and the Caribbean on missions and exercises to assist the region in humanitarian outreach, theater security cooperation initiatives, as well as disaster preparedness and response.

"2008 was full of historic events for our team and our nation," said Lt. Gen. Norman Seip, the Twelfth Air Force (Air Forces Southern) commander. "We saw the rescue of American hostages who had been held captive for more than five years in Colombia, the launch of Operation Southern Partner in four partner nations, the success of the FIDAE air and trade show, New Horizons Peru and the completion of more than 30 medical missions across the region....across the command, our team participated in a year of breakthrough events."

AFSOUTH has a robust volunteer base for deployments to support missions and exercises that come from active-duty units at all major commands, Air National Guard and Air Force Reserve units. These volunteers combine with AFSOUTH assets to engage in missions and exercises that focus on the use of "Soft Power" - non-traditional missions involving humanitarian assistance, disaster response and infrastructure development in foreign nations - in Central and South America, and the Caribbean.

For 2009, the theme of "Soft Power" has emerged as a core principle for the AFSOUTH team. "Our objective is to promote security, enhance stability and enable partnerships across the Americas. Countering narcoterrorism, promoting human rights and providing humanitarian assistance to partner nations are some of the programs in our toolkit," explained Gen. Seip.

"Soft Power missions foster increased security and stability within partner nations, thereby increasing the conditions necessary for free people to prosper. Soft Power helps to emplace infrastructure, the rule of law, the internal ability to effectively respond to natural disasters and professional militaries to enable citizens to freely exercise rights and make responsible choices about their nation's destiny," he added.

In order to accomplish their mission, the men and women of 12th AF (AFSOUTH) engage in a variety of missions in the USSOUTHCOM AOF.

Operation Southern Partner
Air Force leadership recently committed millions to fund 'Operation Southern Partner,' a biannual, two-week exchange program with Latin American and Caribbean nations to share tactics, techniques and procedures in more than 25 military career specialties.

With a focus on long-term partnerships with our fellow Airmen in Latin America, this program provides in-depth subject-matter-exchanges, expertise and presentations, at the request of the host nation governments during focused one-week events in each nation (second week is devoted to next location).

"This program is an important learning tool for our Air Force and our partner nations," said Major Kenny Sierra, AFSOUTH Cooperation Team chief. "We share a common commitment to professional Airmen and safe operation of aircraft. This year we're involved in exchanges with Barbados, Belize, Guyana, Jamaica, Trinidad and Tobago."

"For the medical portion, AFSOUTH has teamed up with the Defense Institute of Medical Operations to help conduct courses requested by the partner nations - for the Caribbean nations, four of the five countries are interested in the 'Critical Life Saving Skills for First Responders' Course," said Major MariAn Shepherd, Command Surgeon Deliberate Plans Officer.

Other exchanges and presentations include: Personnel Recovery/Search and Rescue, medical support during disaster relief/first responders, Noncommissioned Officer and Senior NCO Professional Military Education, corrosion control, Force Protection, Red Horse, Flight Safety, and Aircrew Life Support Equipment exchanges.

OSP will prepare Air Forces to work together in cases of natural disaster, humanitarian assistance operations or future exercises, while also assisting host nations in protecting the environment, providing medical care, communicating with the public, practice search and rescue, fly safely and manage military resources, added Major Sierra.

"Operation Southern Partner is a tremendous opportunity for U.S. Airmen to work alongside partner nation Airmen; learning from each other new processes, tactics, techniques, and procedures to increase the effectiveness of our Air Forces during future operations or natural disaster and humanitarian aid response," said General Seip.

Military Exercises
USSOUTHCOM sponsors a wide range of multinational exercises to strengthen regional partnerships and collective capabilities integral to U.S. national security and the security and stability of the Western Hemisphere. Exercises include training in security operations, the ability to combat illegal migration and illicit trafficking, peacekeeping, disaster relief and humanitarian assistance.

In April 2008, following the FIDAE air and trade show, members of the USAF team flew in a week-long exercise with the Chilean Air Force. The event, dubbed 'NEWEN,' boasted F-16 and F-15E fighters, as well as USAF refueling aircraft.

"Our partners in Latin America have very capable air forces. When Airmen train together, everyone involved in the event benefits from being able to practice tactics, techniques and procedures normally impossible to replicate alone," said Lt. Col. Dan Pence, the AFSOUTH exercise director. "Additionally, combined Air Force exercises foster a spirit of cooperation and build the capacity to provide a cohesive, combined response in future operations," he said.

Eighteen exercises are planned for 2009 - 16 of which are Commander Joint Chief of Staff directed. The two largest events are SALITRE and "Cooperación Uno." In October, Airmen will travel to Chile for SALITRE, a follow-up event to 2008's NEWEN exercise.

"The focus of SALITRE is to build on the success of NEWEN while providing aircrews additional air-to-air training with dissimilar aircraft and enhancing refueling proficiency," explained Lt. Col. Pence. "SALITRE will involve 12 USAF F-15Cs, Chilean F-16s, tanker and airlift aircraft, and combat search and rescue assets, providing a robust training event for aircrews and command and control elements from participants including: Argentina, Brazil, Chile, France and the United States, as well as several other Latin American nations that have been invited as observers. SALITRE will also assist the Chilean Air Force for their deployment to RED FLAG in 2011."

"Cooperación Uno" is a humanitarian assistance and disaster relief exercise sponsored by SICOFAA, or "Sistema de Cooperación entre las Fuerzas Aéreas Americanas", an association of 18 air forces in the Americas. The exercise is a first of its kind, involving every member of the SICOFAA organization. This year the exercise will be a table-top exercise in Puerto Montt, Chile, involving the simulated use of C-130s and HH-60s in response to disaster relief. In 2010, the exercise will involve real aircraft.

Medical Deployments for Training
In addition to working with partner nation militaries, members of the AFSOUTH team are also planning to increase the number of life-changing medical events doctors and technicians accomplish in the region. Called Medical Deployments for Training, these events are aimed at providing medical care for citizens in remote areas of Latin America who may not have regular access to medical care.

These medical deployments are typically 14-day events involving military doctors, specialists and support staff. AFSOUTH deems the Medical Readiness Training Exercises as Medical Deployments for "Training" because each person as well as the planning team/unit, gain experience from each stage of the training; such as, pre-deployment, deployment, employment, and redeployment. When deploying into austere environments, it isn't just the medical skills that are being honed, but the other planning skills are developed as well, explained Col. Scott Van Valkenburg, the AFSOUTH command surgeon.

"These training deployments are invaluable for Air Force medical teams," said Col. Van Valkenburg. "Many personnel deploying in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom and Enduring Freedom have proven to be more prepared for combat deployments because their units first practiced these ancillary skills during humanitarian operations in the USSOUTHCOM area of focus first."

"In 2009, AFSOUTH will support U.S. Southern Command's Theatre Security Cooperation Plan by accomplishing 32 Medical Deployments for Training to 13 nations across the region," said Colonel Van Valkenburg. "These events are supported by every military branch along with U.S. non-governmental organizations, civilian and military doctors, international charities and local governments -- it's a cooperative effort making a lasting impact on the lives of citizens in partner nations."

Medical deployments scheduled for 2009 will include: 18 general medicine events, 17 specialty missions (3 Ophthalmology, 2 Pediatric Nutrition, 2 General Surgery, 3 Ear Nose & Throat, 1 Plastic Surgery, 1 General Surgery, 1 Urology, and 2 "Riverine" deployments), plus three Dental-focused events.

New for 2009 is the "Riverine," or tropical medicine missions, along the Amazon River. These deployments will mark the beginning of a multi-year project to ensure assessment, treatment and evaluation of individuals in need in remote tropical forest locations in concert with the Peruvian Ministry of Health.

"We're especially excited about the opportunity to track the effect of our missions during the Riverine initiative," said Col. Van Valkenburg. "AFSOUTH doctors want to ensure the care provided has an enduring, lasting effect on local tracking the progress of patients over time is the only way to gauge our effectiveness while providing the Ministry of Health baseline data to improve the quality of life of the people we assist -- this will be the model for future operations in Latin America."

Although basic dentistry is often one of the services offered during General Medical deployments, dentists are only able to do routine dentistry, such as simple extractions and cleanings. In 2008, AFSOUTH was able to conduct "DENTRETEs," or dental-only deployments for training, focused on providing more capability to dentists and more services to local citizens.

"The overwhelming popularity of these focused events has proved to our team the value in providing specialized services in addition to general medicine-type deployments," added Col. Van Valkenburg. "In 2008, Air Force doctors and technicians conducted 1560 specialized procedures (dentistry, obstetrics, opthamology, etc.) to citizens -- truly 'life-chaging' procedures."

The benefits of these missions also extend to private and public health professionals in the United States. "Civil-military relations are fostered when mission planners work with civilian counterparts to the military," said Col. Van Valkenburg.

"Last year, AFSOUTH teamed with members of the University of Arizona and the University of South Dakota. We'll continue this tradition while adding a new initiative to integrate AFSOUTH International Health Specialists to act as Country Health Advisors," said Col. Van Valkenburg.

CHAs will engage hospitals, local physicians, Ministries of Health and NGOs to improve the impact of AFSOUTH initiatives through targeted, improved education efforts and preventive medicine initiatives. "The goal is to ensure all of our medical operations in Latin America are cooperative, enduring and effective," summarized Col. Van Valkenburg.

New Horizons
Normally geared to assist health and education sectors in infrastructure development, the New Horizons program also offers infrastructure and medical services to Latin American hinterlands (land behind the borders of a coast or river) and coastal villages, and vital health sector construction.

"New Horizons is especially useful in that it has brought the ability for us to assist people in the hinterland that logistically we had not been able to reach in the past," said Lt. Col. Gary Beaton, commanding officer, 4th Engineer Battalion, Guyana Defence Force.

This summer, a joint team of construction specialists and doctors will deploy to Georgetown, Guyana, to build a medical facility and schoolhouse. The AFSOUTH-led operation, budgeted at more than $9 million, will involve over 600 military members working for more than 75 days to complete a set of new buildings while conducting medical outreach in the community.

"This program builds critical infrastructure for Guyana's health and education ministries, while bringing medical care to remote areas and population centers, as well as training local staff on modern techniques and equipment. This supports stability for the area, builds positive working relationships, and serves as vital training and experience for U.S. personnel," said Lt. Col. Patrick Keenan, New Horizons Joint Task Force commander. "Army and Air Force engineers along with Marine Civil Affairs experts will not only build a clinic and school, they'll renovate a separate school facility built by New Horizons in 2004."

Air Force and Navy medical and dental professionals will augment the effort with a medical operation in Georgetown and three rural sites outside the city. New Horizons is expected to positively impact the lives of more than 600,000 people in Guyana.

In 2008, New Horizons was in Ayacucho, Peru, building more than $650,000 in vital infrastructure to the remote village. A rotating task force of 950 Active Duty, Reservists and Guardsmen from the Air Force, Marines, Army and Navy built three medical clinics, two school houses and a fresh water well while accomplishing nine medical missions to provide medical care to Peruvian citizens in the Ayacucho region. 12,414 Peruvians received medical treatment by Air Force and Navy medical reservists.

"New Horizons offers a unique interaction which affords us the opportunity of being exposed to the U.S. way of doing things and in return it offers the U.S. exposure to our culture and our way of doing things," said Lt. Col. Beaton.

Continuing Promise
In the spring through summer months, the U.S. Naval Hospital Ship USNS Comfort (T-AH 20) is again headed across the U.S. Southern Command area of focus to provide aid to coastal and hinterland communities in the operation deemed "Continuing Promise 09." CP09 is a joint humanitarian and civic assistance mission, providing medical, dental, and optometry services in collaboration with non-governmental organizations and partner nations in Central, South America and the Caribbean, as well as construction and engineering aid.

Several non-governmental agencies, interagency and international partners will join the CP09 team to augment the teams and provide additional outreach capability. During Continuing Promise 2008 organizations such as International Aide, Operation Smile and Project HOPE, as well as medical personnel from the armed forces of Canada, The Netherlands, France and Brazil all participated in the four month mission. This year, the Comfort is planning an ambitious itinerary, with even more NGO and international support.

The Air Force has projected to support CP09 with more than 30 medical personnel, 9 translators (7 Spanish, 2 French/Creole), and an 18-person band from Scott and Lackland AFBs. Medical capabilities will include Pediatrics, OB/GYN, Dental, Lab, Radiology, Pharmacy, Optometry, Dietician, Nursing, and Physical Therapy.
"By increasing quality and access to health care, we are strengthening our international relationships. Operation Continuing Promise will strengthen the effects of our joint missions by bringing the gift of health and changing the lives of countless individuals," said the Assistant Secretary for Health, ADM Joxel Garcia, M.D., M.B.A.

Professional Military Education
Military members in the United States are used to attending Professional Military Education, or PME, at various stages throughout their career, but for some Central and South American nations, limited resources and smaller military ranks have led to scarce opportunities for continued military education. AFSOUTH initiatives to sponsor military officers and enlisted troops from partner nations are designed and executed through the Inter-American Air Forces Academy at Lackland Air Force Base, Texas. The academy, originally founded by the U.S. Army Air Forces in 1943, has graduated an average of more than 600 international students annually for the past 60 years.

"At the Academy, military members from every nation study their technical and professional specialties to enhance international partnerships," said Chief Master Sgt. Andres Alvarez, the Inter-American Air Forces Academy superintendent. "By opening opportunities for our Central and South American partners to attend Squadron Officer School, Maintenance Officer and Superintendent Courses, Non-Commissioned Officer Academy and other technical courses, we're fostering a continued dedication to intellectual growth."

"Both parties benefit from these opportunities," added Chief Alvarez. "Our instructors learn a great deal about the history, culture and perspective of Latin American military members, while the international students have the opportunity to do the same from the U.S. Air Force."

In addition to academic studies, students at the IAAFA also experience American culture, witness democratic values in action and learn American history and traditions during local community visits.

In 2008, military group commanders in Latin America graduated more than 600 students in military training courses at the Inter-American Air Forces Academy.

"Our diverse instructors (both military and civilian staff) work tirelessly to ensure classes are engaging...this is more than teaching a course in a particular subject -- it's a commitment to fostering friendships and personal growth," said Tech. Sgt. Damaris Delgado. Sergeant Delgado is spearheading the establishment of the IAAFA Non-Commissioned Officer Academy as a mobile training team concept within Latin American.

A new initiative AFSOUTH and IAAFA began in 2008 is the International Non-Commissioned Officer Academy Professional Military Education course provided by an IAAFA Mobile Training Team, graduating more than 65 NCOs from more than 18 countries during four classes in the AOF.

The NCO MTT, provides selected NCOs the PME foundation required to make future US-LATAM links successful. Courses provide Latin American NCOs training to prepare them to lead, supervise and manage programs and people as their air forces acquire modern weapon systems and high technology equipment. Topics include Leadership and Follower Principles, Leadership Responsibilities, Core Values, USAF Communication, Performance Reports, Performance Feedback and Counseling/Mentorship and the promotions system.

"The INCOA MTTs will set the foundation for the future of LATAM Air Forces and will strengthen regional cooperation," said Mr. Ty Barbery, Deputy Chief of the Americas Division (AFSOUTH A5I).

In 2009, the NCO MTT concept will continue to evolve, with the command poised to train dozens of new Airmen across the region, added Mr. Barbery.

"Training together now only increases cooperation and understanding in the future," said Chief Alvarez. "We've even had instances where foreign senior officers have visited Air Force headquarters and happened to meet members of their PME courses from years ago -- both had moved up in command since -- the level of trust and understanding they had built is still strong today." 

Air Expositions
Another important community outreach effort in the AFSOUTH repertoire is regional air expositions, commonly referred to as "airshows." Whether it's a single aircraft demonstration, such as the F-16 Viper West Team, static displays from 12th Air Force combat wings or a huge trade show featuring dozens of aircraft from international Air Forces, these events are key to explaining how military cooperation can benefit our neighbors, explained Master Sgt. Dave Johnson, AFSOUTH airshow coordinator.

As an airfield manager, Sergeant Johnson has traveled the world in support of aircraft operations. In Latin America, his mission is to ensure the safety and successful execution of air operations during air expositions. In 2009, Sergeant Johnson and the AFSOUTH team will be in two countries (Honduras and Costa Rica) highlighting talented Air Force people, modern aircraft and continuing international missions. "Each time an Air Force aircraft showcases its capabilities to an audience, I'd like to think we're inspiring a new generation of aviators," he said.

In addition, plans are already underway for the 2010 FIDAE air and trade show in Santiago, Chile -- slated to be the world's largest air exposition in the world.

CT-1 Teams
CT-1 (Cooperation Team) exchanges are interagency efforts to work with military members in Latin American nations through personnel exchanges, seminars or courses in the U.S. or in the host nation. Teams are comprised of approximately 10 U.S. military members specializing in a particular facet of military operations.

CT-1 Teams are composed of volunteers from every major command, reserve and guard units able to share with small groups in any environment, from classrooms and cockpits, to jungles or austere airstrips. Topics may include logistics, legal matters, recruiting, search and rescue techniques, flight safety and standard evaluation (flying certifications). Subject matter experts are keen to tailor their presentations to local languages and rank structures.

Twelve CT-1s are planned for 2009 with a focus on maintaining continuity and building onto subjects explored in 2008. AFSOUTH has accomplished CT-1s for eight years, yet the scope of these events continues to grow, said Mr. Dana Willis, AFSOUTH CT-1 coordinator.

"CT-1s remain an invaluable tool for Airmen-to-Airmen exchanges at the tactical level with our partner nation air forces," said Mr. Willis. "These subject matter exchanges provide the opportunity for one-on-one, hands-on engagements with Latin American and Caribbean counterparts."

"In 2008, ten teams visited countries that ranged from Central America down to the Southern Cone," said Mr. Willis. "These teams worked side-by-side with their partner nation counterparts to resolve a myriad of issues - from fixing a gyro on a C-130 in Peru to assisting in the planning of an international air and trade show in Chile."

Military-to-Military Visits
An important part of the AFSOUTH mission is to acquire and maintain positive working relationships between USAF senior leadership and counterparts in Central, South America and the Caribbean in order to coordinate responses to future events of mutual interest and establish a personal dialogue.

To maintain these vital relationships, commanders maintain an extensive travel schedule. "Our senior staff regularly fly across the area of focus to meet with embassies, country teams, military commanders, heads of state, media members and civilian leaders," said Maj. Cynthia Mesenbrink, the 12th AF (AFSOUTH) commander's Aide-de-Camp. "Trips will typically involve three to five countries, a number of formal dinners and site visits, and several AFSOUTH operating locations."

With a commitment to developing these relationships, General Seip has already taken three trips this year to Latin America and plans to visit 15 countries by June.

"Much like our other initiatives, military-to-military visits by senior officers ensure lines of communication are clear and expectations on both sides are met for upcoming training or special events," he said. In 2008, General Seip personally met with the air chiefs of nearly every partner nation Air Force in Central, South America and the Caribbean, paving the way for cooperative events across the region.

"For AFSOUTH trip planners, engineers, doctors, pilots, airshow and exercise organizers, 2009 will be an eventful, exciting and ultimately rewarding year as the command prepares for the myriad of opportunities ahead," concluded General Seip.