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Partner nation alliance key to PANAMAX

Lt. Gen. Tod Wolters, 12th Air Force (Air Forces Southern) commander, presents a PANAMAX 2014 participation plaque to Lt. Col. Antonio Garcia, Peru's senior officer participating in the exercise, during a recognition ceremony at Davis-Monthan AFB, Ariz., Aug. 14, 2014. Twenty-eight service members from six partner nations worked alongside their 12th AF (AFSOUTH) counterparts at Davis-Monthan during PANAMAX 2014. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Heather R. Redman/Released)

Lt. Gen. Tod Wolters, 12th Air Force (Air Forces Southern) commander, presents a PANAMAX 2014 participation plaque to Lt. Col. Antonio Garcia, Peru's senior officer participating in the exercise, during a recognition ceremony at Davis-Monthan AFB, Ariz., Aug. 14, 2014. Twenty-eight service members from six partner nations worked alongside their 12th AF (AFSOUTH) counterparts at Davis-Monthan during PANAMAX 2014. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Heather R. Redman/Released)

DAVIS-MONTHAN AFB, Ariz. -- Twenty-eight service members from six partner nations are working alongside their 12th Air Force (Air Forces Southern) counterparts at Davis-Monthan during PANAMAX 2014, Aug. 8-15.

The annual exercise is sponsored by U.S. Southern Command and focuses on ensuring the defense of the Panama Canal. While sister service participation between Air Force, Army and Marine personnel makes up a majority of PANAMAX 2014 forces, participants from partner nations are essential to the exercise.

Building stronger partner nation and coalition relationships is the reason exercises like PANAMAX exist, explained Lt. Col. Michael Hinsch, Senior Offense Duty Officer on the Combat Operations Floor in the Air and Space Operations Center for PANAMAX 2014.

"This exercise is all about how we can train and collaborate with our partner nations and strengthen those relationships. Without our partner nations, there is no reason to have this exercise," Hinsch said.

The senior officer participating from Peru, Lt. Col. Antonio Garcia, Chief of the Joint and Combined Division for the Peruvian air force and a MiG-29 and T-41 pilot, is taking part in PANAMAX for the second year in a row.

"We select our best officers [to attend PANAMAX]," Garcia said. "I hope [our U.S. counterparts] see us as good friends and partners. And that we have made a good impression. We have the same roles and doctrine, but the idea is to learn from each other."

An environment of respect, knowledge sharing and teamwork is exactly what exercise planners such as Maj Matthew Wittnam, Air and Space Operations Center Planner for PANAMAX 2014, strive to create.

"I hope we understand better how [our partner nations] do things and some of the considerations that need to happen in those countries," Wittnam said. "And I hope that [our partner nation participants] understand a little better how we conduct our operations. We share a common goal of wanting to get the job done and we all bring something to the table that is equally important."

For PANAMAX planners and participants, the hope is that the relationships forged and strengthened during the exercise will continue to thrive long after the exercise is over and make future, real world missions better.

"I hope [our partner nations] feel like part of the family," Wittnam said. "Because, if we go to do an operation, we're not going to be alone, it's not going to be just the Air Force or just the U.S. We have to have that partner nation buy-in and we have to have that integration."

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