PANAMA CITY, Panama - The guided-missile frigate USS Thach (FFG 43) arrived in Panama City, Panama, for the conclusion of PANAMAX 2011, a multinational exercise focusing on the defense of the Panama Canal Aug. 25.
Thach participated in final exercise briefings and a closing ceremony after nearly two weeks of operations with the navies of Canada, Chile, Ecuador and Peru, which made up the exercise's Pacific Task Force.
The at-sea portion of the exercise was divided into two main phases. The first phase provided the ships with a series of events to increase interoperability, communications and seamanship.
"This portion of PANAMAX exercised our voice reporting procedures, ship-handling skills and practiced our boarding teams," said Cmdr. Jeff Scudder, Thach's commanding officer. "These types of events also allow for the multinational task force to get comfortable working together and build trust at the start of the exercise."
During the second phase, the Pacific Task Force was charged with maintaining maritime domain awareness with a series of scenario-based events focused on the security of the Panama Canal.
"Each ship was given a sector to patrol at the western approaches to the Panama Canal," said Lt. Cmdr. Ronnie Mangsat, Thach's executive officer. "During these patrols, the task force ships conducted surveillance, queried vessels entering their sector and conducted maritime interdiction operations using visit, board, search and seizure (VBSS) teams.
Thach also hosted several sailors from the navies of Canada, Colombia, Ecuador and Peru during different exercise evolutions. The sailors spent their time touring the ship, observing a refueling at sea and working directly as part of Thach's role in the exercise scenarios.
"It was truly a great experience to work with such a close and professional group of Sailors," said Colombian navy Lt. Diana Tovar Correa. "They spent the past eight days learning how the U.S. Navy operates. I will be able to takes these ideas and procedures back to the Colombian navy."
While in Panama City, Thach Sailors participated in the final exercise briefings, which covered lessons learned and the impact of this year's exercises.
"The collective defense of the Panama Canal, exercised during PANAMAX, fosters cooperation, interoperability among partner navies and builds trust among participating nations, which directly contributes to regional security," said Scudder. "Each Sailor on Thach is an important part of this because they are the ones executing the missions we are assigned, such as maintaining awareness in the maritime commons and conducting VBSS operations."
PANAMAX 2011 is an annual U.S. Southern Command (USSOUTHCOM)-sponsored exercise that focuses on ensuring the defense of the Panama Canal, one of the most strategically and economically crucial pieces of infrastructure in the world. The exercise includes 3,500 personnel and 22 vessels from 17 nations and is conducted off the coasts of Panama and in U.S. locations.
U.S. Naval Forces Southern Command and U.S. 4th Fleet supports USSOUTHCOM joint and combined full-spectrum military operations by providing principally sea-based, forward presence to ensure freedom of maneuver in the maritime domain, to foster and sustain cooperative relationships with international partners and to fully exploit the sea as maneuver space in order to enhance regional security and promote peace, stability, and prosperity in the Caribbean, Central and South American regions.