For more than 100 years, the Panama Canal has bridged the divide between the Pacific and Atlantic oceans. Since its completion in 1914, the canal has been one of the most vital shipping routes on the globe, with nearly 14,000 vessels making the transit every year. If the canal were to cease operations, the effects could dramatically impact the global economy. Protecting the canal isn’t solely the responsibility of the United States, but the responsibility of all nations who value free and open trade. This is the purpose of PANAMAX.
PANAMAX is a multinational training exercise that brings together all branches of the U.S. Armed Forces and partner nations to unite and focus on defending the Panama Canal and ensuring the free flow of global commerce. PANAMAX began in 2003 with three participating countries: the United States, Panama and Chile.
Fifty-three Navy Reserve personnel from Commander, Naval Forces Southern Command/Commander U.S. Fourth Fleet (COMUSNAVSO/C4F) participated in PANAMAX 22, August 1-12, at various U.S. locations including the Joint Staff Exercise Directorate at Suffolk, Virginia, Fort Sam Houston in San Antonio, Texas, and at the Fourth Fleet/US Naval Forces South headquarters aboard Naval Station Mayport, in Mayport, Florida.
The exercise included the United States and 23 partner nations: Argentina, Belize, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, El Salvador, France, Guatemala, Guyana, Honduras, Jamaica, Mexico, The Netherlands, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, Spain, Trinidad and Tobago and Uruguay.
“This is one of the most complex exercises involving our region… we must ‘live the situation’," said Argentine Rear Adm. Marcelo Fernandez, who served as Commander, Atlantic Naval Area for the Argentine Navy and the Combined Force Maritime Component Command leader for PANAMAX 22. “We must imagine the global economic impact that would come from the closure of the Panama Canal. We are not here to just create a working group, but to create one team.”
For an exercise like PANAMAX, integration and interoperability are essential to success, and for most Navy Reserve Sailors, integration is their normal operating procedure. During peacetime operations, Reserve Sailors regularly make the fluid transition from their daily civilian lives into the uniform and quickly adapt to the military operational tempo.
“Partnerships are to seek success for each and every one of us,” said Rear Adm. Jim Aiken, Commander, COMUSNAVSO/C4F at the beginning of the exercise. “This week, my goal is for you to get out of your comfort zone. Our challenge is to think differently and to ask questions and understand the perspectives of someone else that may not wear the same uniform as you.”
During the course of PANAMAX, teams were challenged with protecting the region from simulated events, such as attacks from violent extremist groups and local political unrest. The training exercise provided opportunities for Reserve Sailors to directly share the workplace with their active duty counterparts and partner nation service members, which resulted in one-of-a-kind experiences with new perspectives.
“It was an honor to be a part of this evolution because we were able to work with the different [militaries] of South and Central America,” said Master-at-Arms 2nd Class Lizbeth Martinez-Vega, from Houston, who is assigned to NR COMUSNAVSO/C4F. “It is so important to keep our relationships with partner nation military members so we can work together to protect our interests.”
"We are incredibly proud of the 53 Sailors whose planning, training, and execution directly contributed to PANAMAX 2022's overwhelming success,” said Cmdr. Thomas Spencer, acting executive officer of Navy Reserve COMUSNAVSO/C4F. “Their efforts in Mayport, San Antonio, and Suffolk... will pay dividends to SOUTHCOM's [Southern Command’s] future endeavors."
The U.S. Armed Forces and partner nations will continue to strengthen their bonds and protect international shipping routes as the flow of free trade is essential to the prosperity of all nations. The coat of arms for the Republic of Panama reads, “Pro Mundi Beneficio”, which translates to, “For the benefit of the world”. As long as there is a Navy mission, the Navy Reserve Forces will stand ready on day one to support.