By Sandra Downes/Diálogo June 30, 2017 yes Exercise Tradewinds 2017, a multi-national maritime security and disaster response exercise in the Caribbean, welcomed 18 partner nations to the shores of Barbados in June. Antigua and Barbuda, Bahamas, Barbados, Belize, Dominica, Dominican Republic, Grenada, Guyana, Haiti, Jamaica, St. Kitts and Nevis, Suriname, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, Trinidad and Tobago, the United States, Canada, France, Mexico, and the United Kingdom participated in the 2017 edition of the annual U.S. Southern Command (SOUTHCOM)-sponsored international exercise. U.S. Navy Admiral Kurt W. Tidd, SOUTHCOM commander, said the United States truly values the strong relationships forged during Tradewinds. “The exercise helps ensure a seamless partnership, and, by cross training with service members from all over the globe, ensures a better response to natural disasters and land and maritime threats, including illicit trafficking in the critical region.” This year’s theme, ‘A Seamless State Partnership for A Secure Region,’ saw Barbados hosting Phase I from June 6th-12th, before the exercise moved to Trinidad and Tobago from June 13th-17th for Phase 2. The exercise focused mainly on interagency cooperation aimed at developing and sustaining the capacity of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) member states, the Regional Security System (RSS), and regional partner nations to combat transnational crime and provide humanitarian assistance and disaster relief. Speaking at the opening ceremony, Colonel Glyne Grannum, chief of Staff of the Barbados Defence Force, said that the gathering of 800 military and paramilitary personnel and disaster-management practitioners, along with 700 Barbadian volunteers was “indicative of the commitment to this annual exercise and moreover, to ensuring that peace and security prevail in the region and beyond. “We must be prepared to face and conquer any threat against our beloved region,” he added. Why Barbados and Trinidad and Tobago Barbados Defence Force Major Carlos Lovell, who co-coordinated and headed the Exercise Tradewinds secretariat, told Diálogo that Barbados and Trinidad & Tobago were chosen at the end of the 2016 exercise because of the rotation system which is in place among members of the RSS and CARICOM member states. Barbados Coast Guard Lieutenant David Harewood, lead maritime planner for the exercise, explained the event would be developed by telling a story where both Barbados and Trinidad were affected by a common threat. “From Barbados, persons involved in organized crime activities will transition to Trinidad, because a sudden impact disaster will affect the island and drive that group out”, he said. “The idea is for us to be able to take an entire group of persons from Barbados to Trinidad, to help combat crime and render assistance to that country.” All of the scenarios focused primarily on countering transnational organized crime, as well as humanitarian assistance and disaster response, according to Lt. Harewood. “The aim is to enhance regional information sharing, improve maritime interdiction coordination –recognizing that the island states are surrounded more by water than land mass–, and to develop regional training capacity,” he explained. “One important thing was to develop that common understanding between everyone, recognizing that there were different people from different countries, with different ideas about how to do things,” said Belizean Army Captain Zenon Ciego, who was part of the planning team. In practice, however, participants spent the week evacuating residents after a mock mudslide, rescuing persons trapped in a mock cave-in, and residents who were trapped after a mock earthquake occurred in the main city of Bridgetown. The troops also responded to a mass mock casualty at sea where the vessels Jolly Roger and the MC Buccaneer collided, causing an explosion at sea. Forty people were rescued from the water while others who were injured on the vessels awaited medical attention. Additionally, the headquarters of the Black Mumba Liberation (BML) Group, which sought to take over the island, were raided, and soldiers successfully infiltrated and apprehended its members. Phase II As the exercise moved over to the twin island state of Trinidad and Tobago, participants were forced to battle another faction of the BML which was also in operation there, along with terrorist situations. “Most of the exercises we did were new to me,” said St. Vincent and the Grenadines Coast Guard Seaman Josh Hamilton, who was attached to the dive track during Exercise Tradewinds. “We covered different search patterns and new techniques that I will definitely apply to get better results, rather than searching haphazardly,” he said. According to Haitian Police Sergeant Pierre Robinson Feron, “the disaster assimilation was the most impactful, the way they showed us to help people when we have earthquakes.” Sgt. Feron said he looked forward to providing his colleagues back home with as much of the information as possible to share lessons learned. New approach Maj. Lovell was satisfied that the exercise had achieved the objectives laid out during the planning process. “The training objective for disaster management was to exercise and evaluate the national emergency management system in response to a sudden impact disaster,” he said. “The main training objective as it relates to national security was for there to be a successful response by the multinational task force to security threats posed by the transnational organized criminal syndicate.” Part of what made this year’s exercise a resounding success, explained Maj. Lovell, was the new approach, where pre-mission training took place prior to and not during the time allotted for the exercise. “Therefore the capabilities that were developed before were employed extensively during the course of the exercise. The volunteers who role-played during the exercise as casualties increased the realism of the exercise in a way that has not been seen before during Tradewinds.” A third phase comprising a Key Leader Seminar among participant partner nation leaders took place at the end of the practical training exercises to discuss common regional security topics.