SOTO CANO, Honduras – The motto of United States Army South (ARSOUTH) is "Juntos Podemos," which translates to "Together We Can." For the Florida National Guard members of Task Force Caiman, deployed to Central America for this year's Regional Alignment of Forces (RAF) mission for ARSOUTH, these words couldn't be more fitting.
The purpose of RAF missions is to unite American military forces with partnering nations in a specific region. Working together with the military and police forces of El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras, Task Force Caiman has the unique and challenging mission of focusing on current threats of Combating Transnational Organized Crime (CTOC), an issue that Central America has long struggled with.
The approximately 140 Florida Army National Guard (FLARNG) Soldiers of Task Force Caiman make up four separate teams – Team Cocodrilo, Team Caballeria, Team Jaguar and Team Grizzly – all operating in various locations throughout the three partner nations.
Although operating in different areas, all of the teams have similar missions, training partner nation soldiers and police in border security and small unit tactics.
Commanding Task Force Caiman is Lt. Col. Elizabeth Evans from the FLARNG's 53rd Infantry Brigade Combat Team (IBCT), who noted that working with the partner nation militaries has been interesting and rewarding for her and her Soldiers.
"This mission presents a very diverse audience during each rotation, which has challenged the Soldiers to consistently remain fluid and adaptable in their approach to ensure shared understanding," said Evans. "Our Soldiers have to think outside the box to be successful here. They have to find ways to connect with soldiers from a foreign country who don't speak the same language, have the same resources, or come from similar backgrounds."
While the majority of the Soldiers comprising Task Force Caiman came from the 53rd IBCT, Soldiers from 25 different units around the state actually volunteered due to vital skills they possessed, such as a background as an intelligence analyst or the ability to speak fluent Spanish.
Since beginning early this year, Task Force Caiman has already trained 636 partner nation soldiers. By the conclusion of RAF16, if numbers remain consistent through the final training blocks, they will have trained close to 1,000, nearly double what the RAF element trained last year.
Evans said that the mission is beneficial for both her Soldiers and the partnering nations.
"Any time a Soldier has the opportunity to participate in training in a collective environment, that Soldier becomes a more valuable asset to their organization," she said. "Every time I visit one of our teams, I'm consistently more impressed by our Soldiers and how they've grown during this deployment. The maturity and adaptability they have demonstrated in this complex environment will serve them and the state of Florida for years to come."
Command Sgt. Maj. David Lanham, Task Force Caiman command sergeant major, agreed that RAF missions such as this are vital to the success of not only our organization but also of partnering nations seeking to improve their way of life.
"Engaging partner nations, specifically in Central America, is essential to enhancing the region's ability to counter transnational criminal organizations and serves to bolster the security of our nation's southern borders," said Lanham. "The 53rd IBCT is the main unit supporting the RAF16 mission, and as such is instrumental in building partner capacity and improving regional integration."
With a busy year already, including deployments to Africa and the Middle East, the RAF mission in Central America has become yet another front that the 53rd IBCT has stepped into on a global scale.
"This brigade has the largest global footprint of any other National Guard infantry brigade in the country, with assets deployed to Africa and throughout Central America, in Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador," said the adjutant general of Florida, Maj. Gen. Michael A. Calhoun, during the recent deployment ceremony of the 53rd IBCT's 1st Battalion, 124th Infantry Regiment.
The 53rd IBCT is regionally aligned with U.S. Southern Command and has historically participated in training exercises and missions with them. Branching out to take on new missions in other nations highlights the unique capabilities that the Florida National Guard possesses, and is something that Evans hopes will continue.
"This training signifies and reinforces our commitment to our partner nations in Central America," said Evans. "The mission we are performing here is a direct example of the critical role National Guard Soldiers play in the Chief of Staff of the Army's Total Army Concept."