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IMAs support multinational USSOUTHCOM exercise

  • Published
  • By Master Sgt. Timm Huffman
  • Headquarters RIO

Two Individual Mobilization Augmentees supported U.S. Southern Command’s PANAMAX 16 exercise at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, Arizona, July 29 through Aug. 4.

Col. Mary Johnson and Lt. Col. Charlotte Jackson supported the annual exercise. PANAMAX is a 7-day, multinational exercise simulating command and control of multinational sea, air, cyber and land forces to defend the Panama Canal against threats from violent extremism and to provide humanitarian relief. Nineteen partner nations participated this year.

For Johnson, who is the IMA to the 12th Air Force intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance director, this was her second time supporting PANAMAX. Her role during the exercise was senior intelligence officer within the air and space operations center, or AOC. In that position she was responsible for ensuring all air component ISR support for the exercise was properly executed.

Jackson, an IMA assigned to the 612th AOC Air Mobility Division, has supported PANAMAX four times since 2010, and also participated in a table-top version in 2015. This year she had the opportunity to take a leadership role, acting as the deputy chief of the AMD, ensuring requests for aircraft were handled correctly, including positioning aircraft, flight times, clearances, weather and crew calls; basically she oversaw everything involved with getting aircraft from point A to B and back again, she said.

One of the most important aspects of each iteration of the exercise is creating, fostering and improving relationships with partner nations in South America, said Jackson. This includes getting all of the involved nations to work and learn together so that in the event of a real world situation there is a unified response to any threat. She said there were 11 nations represented just within the AMD. This was challenging – they kept Google Translate up on a screen at all times – but also rewarding. Not only were the foreign troops professionals, the experience allowed all parties to watch how the other tackled particular problems.

“If you’re not learning you’re wrong,” said Jackson of the experience.

Johnson, who has over 36 years in the Air Force, echoed her sentiment. She said the coalition of partner nations sat side by side with U.S. personnel to execute the mission. It was also the first time the partner nations were in the lead role for the air, ground and sea aspects of the exercise. As the top ISR AOC officer, she was daily briefing Columbian Brig. Gen. Sergio Andrés Garzón Vélez, who was the Combined Forces Air Component Commander.

Involving the Air Force Reserve and Air National Guard was another important aspect of the exercise. In addition to the IMAs, the 183rd Airlift Squadron, part of the Mississippi ANG's 172nd Airlift Wing, provided the aircrews for the exercise, all of which were new.

Jackson said this was a great opportunity to train the rookies on how things function when working with multinational partners. She added that the IMAs provide great benefit in this area, as they offer continuity that is often lacking in active duty units.

Johnson agreed on the Total Force equation, saying that having the Air Force Reserve and ANG participate is akin to practicing like it's real, since the three components would work together in an actual emergency situation.

“It’s essential today because in all our everyday operations the Total Force is so important,” she said. "The active duty couldn’t do it without us.”

She said the Reserve, especially IMAs, bring in a lot of experience and play a key role in filling empty seats when the active duty members deploy.

“There are a lot of holes and the active duty can bring in Reservists to fill in those gaps,” Johnson added.

Jackson said her own experience as an IMA has been proof of this. She was involved in writing doctrinal changes in the wake of the 2010 earthquake in Haiti and has provided continuity over the years as active duty members have come in and ouitst of her unit.

In total, More than 35 partner air force officers from about a dozen Western Hemisphere countries participated in the air portion of PANAMAX 16. By the end, Johnson said all those involved were functioning as a cohesive team, networking and working well together.

“It was a spectacular success,” she said.

IMAs are Air Force Reservists assigned to active-duty units and government agencies. They are managed by Headquarters Individual Reservist Readiness and Integration Organization, located at Buckley Air Force Base, Colorado, and serve over 50 separate major commands, combatant commands and government agencies.

Unlike traditional Reservists, who are assigned to Reserve units that regularly perform duty together, IMAs work with their active-duty supervisors to create a custom duty schedule that helps their unit meet mission requirements. To learn more about the IMA program, visit