By Capt. Nathan D. Broshear , 12th Air Force and Air Forces Southern Public Affairs
/ Published March 05, 2008
DAVIS-MONTHAN AIR FORCE BASE, Ariz. -- Military members from around the Air Force are gearing up for another year of military engagement in Central, South America and the Caribbean as part of Air Forces Southern's mission in the region.
"2007 was a momentous year for AFSOUTH," said Lt. Gen. Norman Seip, the AFSOUTH commander. "And looking forward into 2008 -- I know our partners in Central, South America and the Caribbean will be pleased at how we're working to build on these successes to ensure our cooperative efforts reach an even higher level in the coming months."
Under the mantle of U.S. Southern Command's Theatre Security Cooperation Plan, members of AFSOUTH work to engage government, military and civilian audiences through a variety of events in this growing and influential region.
"We're proud to be able to work with military members from across Central, South America and the Caribbean to improve the lives of indigenous peoples, assist governments during crisis situations, bring much-needed medical aid to remote areas and exercise joint military capabilities in combined exercises with these dedicated military professionals," added General Seip.
New for 2008 is AFSOUTH's support of the Regional Aircraft Modernization Program, or RAMP. The program which was first envisioned by members of the Secretary of the Air Force International Affairs office in Washington D.C., and now championed by the AFSOUTH Plans and Requirements Division, assists Central and South American nations in modernizing their Air Force inventories by using a cost-sharing and regionalized approach.
Many of the partner nations are operating aircraft first procured in the 1970s or earlier, explained Lt Col Dana Willis, the AFSOUTH Cooperation Team Chief. "For many, the need to modernize their aircraft is at a crisis level -- it's vital that these nations field new resources in the next few years or there will be critical gaps in their air forces' ability to function."
Participants in the first phase of the multi-year program include: El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua and Guatemala.
"RAMP addresses many of the same issues the U.S. Air Force is facing -- how to maximize a limited military budget and recapitalize Air Force assets for future requirements," said Lt. Col. Troy Hewgley, the chief of Theatre Security Cooperation Division, "By assisting in modernizing these aircraft fleets we'll enable participating countries to provide for their own security, combat narcoterrorists, airlift supplies or humanitarian aid throughout the region, shuttle troops or materials -- unlocking capabilities to foster regional military cooperation."
By regionalizing capabilities, participating nations can share maintenance and training costs to bring down the total expense, added Colonel Hewgley.
"Cooperating to maintain and sustain aircraft assets between several nations not only saves money, but ensures nations are working together toward a common goal: using airpower to assist citizens and ensure national sovereignty while also strengthening military bonds with their neighbors," he said.
Medical Deployments for Training
In addition to military hardware, AFSOUTH plans to engage indigenous peoples by providing direct medical attention to citizens living in remote areas of Latin America. Medical Deployments for Training, formerly known as Medical Readiness Exercises, are typically 14-day events involving military doctors and specialists traveling to areas with little access to regular medical care. Once there, military members partner with national government services, charitable organizations and local doctors to "literally change lives overnight," said General Seip.
"In 2008, AFSOUTH will support Southern Command's Theatre Security Cooperation Plan by accomplishing 31 Medical Deployments for Training to 13 nations across the region," said General Seip. "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 these citizens."
"This year we're working with members of the University of Arizona and University of South Dakota to accomplish nutritional evaluations in Honduras," said Col. Scott Van Valkenburg, the AFSOUTH Command Surgeon. "Data collected will not only have a direct benefit to those involved by identifying what measures will most positively benefit patients, but we're also sharing our findings with the Honduran Ministry of Health to help identify trends and prevent future malnutrition."
Other medical deployments scheduled for 2008 will include events in remote regions of El Salvador, Guatemala, Chile, Belize, Trinidad and Tobago, as well as Peru.
Procedures typically performed during medical deployments are dental surgeries and evaluations, pediatric and obstetrics (women's health), ophthalmology (vision) exams and procedures, checkups, minor medical procedures and nutritional evaluations.
In 2008, AFSOUTH staff also developed a specialized dental program for an upcoming deployment. The two-week missions will provide civilians with more restorative procedures and care than ever before -- and offer military dental technicians valuable training during the community outreach effort.
"Sometimes the most dramatic impact on a person's life can come from the most minor procedure," said Colonel Van Valkenburg. "We've seen patients who have lived for years with debilitating injuries that our doctors have been able to treat in hours -- giving a person a quality of life they've never had before...it's one of the most heartening and worthwhile gifts our AFSOUTH men and women can provide."
"Often a building or infrastructure improvement can open up a whole new horizon of possibilities for an area," said Maj. Matt Joganich, Task Force commander for an upcoming New Horizons project. "That's why programs to build schools, hospitals, fresh-water wells and other structures are called, 'New Horizons' initiatives."
In 2007, AFSOUTH was responsible for more than $3.4 million in New Horizons projects. In 2008, the command will act as the executive agent for U.S. Southern Command's New Horizons initiatives, organizing several of these community construction projects in Latin American countries.
"One of our most ambitious projects is in Ayacucho, Peru where engineers are designing and building a several clinics, schools and drilling wells for the indigenous population," said Major Joganich.
The three month project will involve hundreds of military personnel from around the United States working seven days a week in the Peruvian winter (summer in the United States). The budget for the Peruvian projects tops $12 million, with the bulk of the monies used to transport building materials, manpower and supplies to be used by the people of Ayacucho after the project is complete.
"New Horizons projects are more than just bricks and mortar," said Major Joganich. "During each project our teams also engage local citizens during construction, volunteer at nearby orphanages and schools, meet with government and military members, all with the end goal of cementing -- pun intended -- lasting relationships between our partner countries."
Lt. Col. Dan Pence, the Air Forces Southern exercise director, understands the importance of intense training. As an experienced aviator, with thousands of hours in Air Force and Marine Corps aircraft, he's been involved in dozens of training scenarios; today his job is focused on designing training opportunities to challenge AFSOUTH aircrews, maximize interoperability between Central and South American Air Forces and foster deeper cooperation between Airmen of participating partner nations.
"Conducting an exercise with our Latin American partner Air Forces allows everyone involved to practice tactics, techniques and procedures normally impossible to replicate alone," said Colonel Pence. "For example, during air-to-air engagements aircrews are able to dogfight with dissimilar aircraft from a foreign nation to test their skills or engage ground targets alongside our aircrews -- increasing the ability to operate as a coalition force in the future."
AFSOUTH is preparing for three major exercises in 2008: NEWEN, PANAMAX, and BLUE FLAG.
"NEWEN is purely an aircraft-centric operation with the Chilean Air Force, while PANAMAX involves 16 nations coming together to form a large naval and ground force supported by aircraft," said Colonel Pence. "BLUE FLAG challenges the command and control elements of the Combined Air and Space Operations Center and Air Force Forces staff during a simulated theatre campaign."
PANAMAX, the largest USSOUTHCOM exercise, challenges military forces to protect the Panama Canal from terrorist attacks and protect civilian shipping via the critical waterway. "Throughout the year, every aspect of our mission will be rehearsed, stressed and practiced to ensure our entire AFSOUTH and USSOUTHCOM team is prepared for any contingency," added the colonel.
Planning for AFSOUTH exercises is a long process requiring the inputs of disparate parties around the AFSOUTH area of responsibility. Partner nation representatives work alongside AFSOUTH planners during conferences and meetings to ensure every detail of an exercise is coordinated with civilian and military leadership.
"Even the planning stages of an exercise help to solidify our relationships with these nations," concluded Colonel Pence. "We're able to discuss the training objectives, the challenges for participants and the needs of the particular audiences...combat training is simply the culmination of this long cooperative process."
Another important community outreach effort in the AFSOUTH repertoire are 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 tradeshow featuring dozens aircraft from international Air Forces, these events are key to explaining how military cooperation can benefit our neighbors explained Maj. Joseph Farron, the AFSOUTH airshow coordinator.
In 2008, Major Farron's staff will be in four countries (Dominican Republic, Chile, Curacao, and Colombia) 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. "And to see our jets flying in formation with Central and South American Air Forces...it's an honor to fly with these dedicated pilots."
Major Farron and his staff currently are finalizing details for an event in the Dominican Republic in mid-February. In March, his team will depart for Santiago, Chile to participate in FIDAE 08, the largest industry and military aviation exposition in South America -- in fact, FIDAE is the fifth largest such event in the world. Other events scheduled for the year include, the Dutch Navy Days in Curacao and F-AIR 08 in Medellin, Colombia.
"FIDAE is a great example of how AFSOUTH multitasks," said Major Farron. "We'll deploy more than 15 aircraft and approximately 200 military members for the airshow portion of the trip -- and while there, the team will also accomplish community outreach events, an aeromedical exercise and a few days of combined military training with the Chilean Air Force -- it should be a great experience for everyone involved."
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 are sponsoring more than 600 students to attend a variety of 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.
"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."
Interagency efforts to work with military members in Latin American nations may include exchanges, seminars or courses in the U.S. or AFSOUTH members can "bring classrooms downrange."
"Via 'CT-1' or 'cooperation teams' AFSOUTH members conduct subject matter expert exchanges with our peers," said Col. James Russell, the Air Forces Southern Director of Operations. "During the 15 planned events in 2008, our team members will demonstrate tactics, techniques and procedures in a 'hands-on' manner for our partner nation Air Forces on a variety of topics -- it's a chance to exchange information in the best classroom available -- in the field alongside other military members."
Teams are comprised of approximately 10 U.S. military members specializing in a particular facet of military operations. Volunteers may lecture 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.
"These events are intended to be one-on-one with individuals who will remain in the partner nation's military to implement the information exchanged," said Colonel Russell. "We look to the Total Force to resource our mission...often Air National Guard and Air Force Reserve members are part of our teams as they have experience in older weapons systems common to the region and are long-time experts in their craft."
"With command comes responsibility" may be a proverb, but for the AFSOUTH commander, leadership requires travel -- a lot of travel.
"Our senior staff regularly flies to Central and South America to meet with embassies and their country teams, military commanders, heads of state, media members and civilian leaders," said Capt. Chris Weaton, the 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."
"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 2007, General Seip personally met with the air chiefs of nearly every partner nation Air Force in Central, South America and the Caribbean.
"In 2008, we'll continue to ensure leaders from across the region are personally aware of how AFSOUTH aircraft and military members are ready to assist our partner nations," said Captain Weaton. To accomplish this task, the commander will travel throughout the region as often as 10 days per month.
"For AFSOUTH trip planners, engineers, doctors, pilots, airshow and exercise organizers, 2008 should be an eventful, hectic and ultimately rewarding year as the command prepares for the myriad of opportunities ahead," concluded General Seip.
"Our mission in the U.S. Southern Command area of responsibility is incredibly challenging," he said. "But for everyone involved -- these missions are important to our partner nations, extremely meaningful to the people we touch during our missions and tremendously rewarding to the members of our AFSOUTH team."