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News | May 13, 2024

U.S. Army South, joint force and multinational planners prepare for Exercise PANAMAX 2024 with crisis planning conference

By Sgt. 1st Class Iman Broady-Chin U.S. Army South Public Affairs

U.S. Army South hosted Joint Force planners and military representatives from five South American countries for a crisis planning conference at the Estancia del Norte San Antonio Hotel from April 22-26 in preparation for Exercise PANAMAX 2024.

Exercise PANAMAX is a U.S. Southern Command-sponsored, multinational and biannual exercise that provides training opportunities for Western Hemisphere nations to work together and build upon their capability to plan and conduct complex, multi-domain operations. The exercise scenario involves security and stability operations and focuses on a multinational and whole-of-government response under a United Nations Security Council resolution to counter security threats and ensure a free flow of commerce through the Panama Canal.

As the land component to U.S. Southern Command, Army South has the capability to transition to a joint task force headquarters. During exercise PANAMAX, the Fort Sam Houston-based organization will serve as Multinational Forces-South (MNFS). The crisis planning conference enabled MNFS planners to exercise the Joint Planning Process and collaborate side-by-side to produce an operations order and wargame for the command post exercise, slated for August.

“This is a very important exercise,” said Maj. Gen. William L. Thigpen, Army South and MNFS commander. “It really is a great opportunity to bring nations together for a common cause of partnership and planning, to understand each other, and really build on interoperability.”

Interoperability and partnership resonated throughout the crisis planning conference, which involved a diverse spectrum of military forces and Department of Defense civilians. Multinational representatives from Chile, Brazil, Ecuador, Argentina, and Peru were in attendance, as well as combined joint force augmentation from the Joint Enabling Capabilities Command and other active-duty, National Guard and Reserve members.

“I think the most interesting thing here is that our [MNFS] chief of staff is from Peru, the operations officer is from Chile, and we have advisors from Brazil, Ecuador and Argentina,” said Chilean Army Col. Mauricio Rojo, the MNFS deputy J3 operations advisor. “So, this is a very good opportunity to share and learn from each other’s unique experiences. Each country has its own way to do its own things, but we are here to learn to work together, communicate with each other, and understand each other.”

The MNFS Chief of Staff, Peruvian Navy Capt. Humberto Martinez, led the staff in their planning efforts throughout the week, which included identifying any issues or information gaps.

“The chief of staff is sort of an orchestra director,” explained Martinez. “I have to ensure that every team is synchronized with each other in order to do the complex planning that we have to do. The outcome of all of our efforts will be the main ingredient for each [subordinate] component to do their own planning processes.”

The MNFS staff worked together to conduct mission analysis, then each warfighting function developed courses of action to address the simulated threats.

“The MNFS PIC’s output is an order and a concept for how the Multinational Forces will protect the Panama Canal,” explained Lt. Col. Matthew Wilkinson, the combined joint G35 future operations chief for the exercise.

Wilkinson added that the result of this planning conference will inform the following events– a component-level planning in crisis conference in May and the PANAMAX24 command post exercise in August.

“This exercise is also how we learn to incorporate multinational forces and joint forces,” he said. “So, as an Army headquarters, we are broadening ourselves so that we can be a joint capable headquarters if tasked by SOUTHCOM.”

Exercise PANAMAX began in 2003, with initial participants from Chile, Panama and the United States. Since its inception, the exercise has evolved to become the region’s largest coalition command post-exercise.