TRADEWINDS, a U.S. Southern Command Caribbean-focused exercise, took place May 7-20 in the countries of Mexico and Belize with 22 participating nations. This year was distinctive as TRADEWINDS spanned across two Geographical Combatant Commands and required coordination across unified campaign plan boundaries. Mexico and Belize were the co-hosts with Mexico hosting the maritime-phase events and Belize hosting the land phase. Belize as a co-host is unique as it is a Central American country that is also a member of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM). Mexico as a co-host is additionally unique because it is in U.S. Northern Command’s area of responsibility (AOR). Throughout TRADEWINDS, U.S. Civil Affairs (CA) teams from 98th Civil Affairs Battalion trained with SEMAR (Mexican Marinas) and the BDF on civil engagements, civil reconnaissance, project planning and civic action events. In Ladyville, Belize, a civil affairs team worked with partner forces to restore a city center building.
“We don’t always have the same weather or terrain in the U.S. that we may encounter in other countries,” said a 7th SFG (A) team sergeant.” TRADEWINDS gives us real world experience in a foreign country, plus the cultural and language exposure.”
“TRADEWINDS is a great opportunity to have U.S. SOF train with so many partners in an exercise of this size. The exchange of expertise and training tactics are crucial in improving interoperability and effectively executing future maritime and land operations,“ said a SOCNORTH exercise planner.
“The 3-day civic action event developed the partnership between the local population in Ladyville, the Belizean Defense Force, and U.S. SOF, which shows the importance of civil affairs and what it can do for a community,” said a U.S. Civil Affairs team leader.
In Belize, 7th Special Forces Group (Airborne) Green Berets advised and mentored the joint multinational land component forces throughout the exercise to include operational planning and guiding in staff roles. Training tasks included: Small Unit Tactics, Land Navigation, Camouflage and Concealment, Survival, Medical, and Marksmanship. We also conducted Airborne, Rappelling, Dive, and Hoist Operations. Their Culminating Exercise (CULEX) consisted of a foot patrol, leading to an assault and raid on an objective, combat casualty care, and a medical evacuation via helicopter. Additionally, the Belize Defence Force (BDF) held a Jungle Certification Course, with participants from 7th SFG (A) and multiple partner countries. The four-week jungle warfare course challenged the students physically and mentally on their abilities to maneuver, lead and survive in extreme conditions, preparing them for future environments they may encounter. Successful completion of the course resulted in graduates becoming basic-level jungle instructor certified by the BDF.
In Bacalar Lagoon and Chetumal, Mexico, Green Berets with 7th SFG (A) conducted boat familiarization, swim tests, combat water survival tests and capsize drills for all riverine participants prior to the commencement of maritime training. After ensuring all participants were prepared for the rigors of maritime operations, they moved on to open water patrolling and interdiction in Chetumal Bay, Helocast Operations in Bacalar Lagoon, riverine patrolling, interdiction, and rope bridge river crossing in Rio Hondo with partner forces. Participants put all the skills learned over the previous two weeks for a CULEX that included air support to interdict two vessels, whereby participants established blocking positions to board the vessels and conduct the interdiction in the Rio Hondo between Mexico and Belize.
The U.S. Civil Affairs and Psychological Operations teams in Sacxán, Mexico, conducted several classes leading up to their CULEX. Topics covered during their training included: civil information management, planning and project coordination, loudspeaker operations, and medical training. The CULEX consisted of the teams observing civil engagements where Mexican Marines practiced their interview skills with the town mayor and local community leaders. This was the first time, Civil Affairs and Psychological Operations training took place in TRADEWINDS. This year was the 37th iteration of TRADEWINDS, which provided participating nations opportunities to conduct joint, combined, and interagency training focused on increasing regional cooperation. SOF involvement in exercises like TRADEWINDS, enhances regional security and stability while fostering relationships, ensuring U.S. SOF is the partner of choice.