Friday, March 06, 2009

Tradewinds Exercise Begins in Bahamas

By Marine Corps Staff Sgt. A.C. Mink, Special to American Forces Press Service

NASSAU, Bahamas - More than 400 U.S. servicemembers, as well as security forces and officials from the Caribbean nation and British Royal Marines, were on hand here yesterday for the opening ceremonies of the 25th annual Tradewinds exercise.
"This exercise is yet another demonstration of the U.S. government's commitment to the peace and security of the Bahamas, the Caribbean region and the Western Hemisphere through a continuous program of cooperation among all partner nations," Timothy Zuniga-Brown, charge d'affaires at the U.S. Embassy in the Bahamas, said in his opening remarks.

Tradewinds is a chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff-directed, U.S. Southern Command-sponsored annual exercise designed to improve cooperation and interoperability of partner nations in responding to regional security threats.

"The Tradewinds exercise, now in its 25th year, has established itself as an essential and dynamic collaborative framework for improving cooperation and interoperability among participating countries to confront head-on [the] grave security challenges in the Caribbean region," Bahamas National Security Minister O.A. "Tommy" Turnquest said.

Turnquest thanked the U.S. government and Southcom for their support through the Tradewinds exercise series and the Enduring Friendship program, through which the nation received four interceptor vessels to help its own security efforts.

The program provides high-speed interceptor boats with extensive communication and surveillance suites, as well as a command, control and communication package that links U.S. Joint Interagency Task Force South with partner nations' operations centers to track and coordinate seizure of illicit maritime traffic.

"The focus of this year's activities on maritime interdiction is critical and timely, and is in line with our determination that every effort should be made to prevent a significant upsurge in drug trafficking in the Caribbean region," Turnquest said.

Marine Corps Lt. Col. Trent Blackson of Marine Corps Forces South, the exercise director, emphasized the effect of the cooperative effort.

"Exercise Tradewinds 2009 provides an excellent opportunity for our forces to train together to counter the illicit trafficking threat," he said. "We have brought together a team of experts with wide-ranging skill sets to improve our collective capability across the Caribbean Basin to stop the flow of illegal narcotics, weapons, explosives, terrorists and human trafficking."

Given those issues affecting maritime traffic, as well as the area's vulnerability to natural disasters such as hurricanes, Turnquest said he is "pleased with the focus on search-and-rescue operations, with emphasis on command and control," and that he's "convinced the training will provide invaluable expertise and experience for all participants."

Nations participating in Tradewinds 2009 include Bahamas, Barbados, Belize, Dominica, Dominican Republic, Grenada, Guyana, Haiti, Honduras, Jamaica, Nicaragua, St. Kitts-Neves, St. Lucia, St. Vincent and Grenadines, Suriname, Trinidad-Tobago, the United Kingdom and the United States.

In addition to servicemembers from the Marine Corps, Coast Guard, Army, Navy, Air Force and the National Guard, U.S. participation includes members of Joint Interagency Task Force South, Naval Criminal Investigative Service and the Drug Enforcement Administration.

Partner nations' maritime security forces, Royal Marine commandos and personnel from the Caribbean Regional Security System also will participate.

(Marine Corps Staff Sgt. A.C. Mink is deployed to Tradewinds 2009 from Marine Corps Air Station New River, N.C.)