Monday, August 20, 2018

Mattis Impressed With Colombian Progress, Concerned About Venezuela

By Jim Garamone, DoD News, Defense Media Activity

WASHINGTON -- Defense Secretary James N. Mattis said he came away from Colombia impressed by the progress he witnessed there, but that he’s concerned about the unrest in neighboring Venezuela.

Mattis spoke to reporters traveling with him on the homeward leg of his trip to South America last week.

“I don't always leave a theater saying, ‘Boy, what a fortunate theater that is,’” he said. “And yet, there are a lot of reasons to look at this as a fortunate hemisphere here. But, that just means we work more on it. We don't get complacent. We go to work.”

Colombia was close to being a failed state in the 1980s and 1990s. An insurgency threatened the government, and transnational criminal organizations used their financial and paramilitary might freely. Mattis noted that at one point, Bogota, the capital of the country, was almost surrounded by enemies.

Reliable U.S. Partner

Today, Colombia is one of America’s “most capable, and certainly, most reliable partners both in Latin America and even in the world in many ways,” Mattis said.

Colombia’s police and military -- once known for lawlessness -- now set the regional standard for operational effectiveness and for respecting human rights.

“We stand with them as they continue to strengthen their democracy,” the secretary said. “We saw that in the election, the series of elections, the runoff and all that just occurred.”

Today, Colombia is exporting stability, helping neighboring states develop their police and military capabilities.

Colombia is also hosting the Unitas exercise next month. Unitas is Latin for unity. This is the longest-running annual multinational maritime exercise, and it will encompass ships and personnel from all over the hemisphere.

Colombia is just one example of the spread of democratic ideas in the region. In fact, Mattis said, “this has also become more the norm, except for three countries of course: Nicaragua, Cuba and Venezuela.

Crisis in Venezuela

The crisis in Venezuela is being felt around the region. Hyperinflation in that country is expected to hit 1 million percent this year. Officials in Colombia estimate that a million Venezuelans are in Colombia now, and tens of thousands of people are fleeing the country to other neighbors. Neighboring nations are helping with these refugees and looking to ensure peace along a desperate border.

“We are working with them as well. “A subject [that] came up in both of my meetings this morning … was on what we're working on in terms of the Venezuelan refugees and their destabilizing impact they have,” Mattis said. “Probably a million or more that are in Colombia now, and you know about the thousands, tens of thousands, elsewhere, and … it's an enormous challenge.”

The U.S. State Department is providing $56 million in aid to refugees. DoD is sending the hospital ship USNS Comfort to the region to help.

“It is absolutely a humanitarian mission,” the secretary said. “We're not sending soldiers; we're sending doctors. And it's an effort to deal with the human cost of [Venezuelan President Nicolas] Maduro, and his increasingly isolated regime.”

U.S., Iraq, Kuwait Complete Trilateral Exercise

By Navy Petty Officer 2nd Class Samantha Montenegro, U.S. 5th Fleet

PERSIAN GULF -- The U.S. Navy and Coast Guard completed a trilateral exercise with Iraqi navy and Kuwaiti navy partners in the Northern Persian Gulf, Aug. 15.

The exercise focused on improving collective proficiency in maritime security tactics between the three nations and ensuring the freedom of navigation throughout the U.S. 5th Fleet area of operations, officials said.

Participants included the U.S. guided-missile destroyer USS The Sullivans, U.S. coastal patrol ships USS Tempest and USS Chinook, U.S. Coast Guard Island-class patrol boat USCGC Monomoy, Iraqi navy patrol boat P 303, and Kuwaiti navy patrol boat KNS Al-Garoh. The Sullivans led command and control of each event throughout the exercise.

Exercise events included live-fire gunnery exercises, visit, board, search and seizure team training, maritime infrastructure protection drills, search and rescue training, and high-value unit protection operations.

“This has been such a rewarding experience,” said Navy Seaman Karen Rodriguez, assigned to The Sullivans. “I was a part of the small boat operations we conducted with the Iraqi and Kuwaiti navies, and was able to watch our partners maneuver in the gulf alongside us. It’s reassuring to know we have strong partners in this area with common goals and it was really great to see it first-hand.”

Navy Cmdr. Russ Moore, The Sullivan’s commanding officer, felt the exercise helped develop collective maritime security tactics.

“Kuwait and Iraq play a key role in maintaining maritime stability in this region,” Moore said. “This trilateral exercise was an opportunity for all of us to flex our capabilities and learn more about our collective capability. We proved that our nations have the commitment and capacity to collectively preserve the free flow of commerce and freedom of navigation in the Gulf.”

Supporting Regional Stability

The exercise was led by Task Force 55, and is part of a routine theater security cooperation engagement serving as an opportunity to strengthen tactical proficiency in critical mission areas and support long-term regional stability.

TF 55 controls surface forces in the 5th Fleet area of operations, such as U.S. Navy patrol craft, U.S. Coast Guard patrol boats and independently deployed ships.
The U.S. 5th Fleet area of operations encompasses nearly 2.5 million square miles of water area and includes the Persian Gulf, Gulf of Oman, Red Sea and parts of the Indian Ocean. The region is composed of 20 countries and includes three critical choke points at the Strait of Hormuz, the Suez Canal and the Strait of Bab-al-Mandeb at the southern tip of Yemen.

Face of Defense: Airlift Manager Delivers on Contingency Travel Plan

By Air Force Tech. Sgt. Seth Bleuer, 194th Wing

KAHULUI, Hawaii -- Air Force Master Sgt. Michelle Kelly, an airlift manager with the Oregon Air National Guard’s 173rd Fighter Wing, served as the transportation planner for Tropic Care Maui County 2018, a joint training mission providing no-cost medical, dental, and vision services to people living on the Hawaiian Islands of Maui, Molokai and Lanai.

The training mission was held August 11-19.

Kelly has served in the Air National Guard for 18 years. She lives in Klamath Falls, Oregon, with her husband. She enjoys raising pigs and horseback riding.

Planning Transportation

For Tropic Care Maui County 2018, Kelly planned all of the transportation to three different islands for over 350 service members from several military service branches. Tropic Care Maui County 2018 covers six different sites on three separate islands that require transportation of personnel and supplies to and from the sites.

Just before the majority of service members were to travel to the islands for the start of the mission, Hurricane Hector was moving through the Pacific, with the possibility of impacting the Hawaiian Islands. Kelly had to coordinate a contingency plan for travel on the day before the main body of service members was to arrive.

“The hurricane created a lot of transportation challenges,” she said. “When you fly military aircraft you have a large amount of people coming in at the same time and same place, and you can concentrate your transportation to that one location. Due to the hurricane we had to switch to commercial air, which meant we had small groups coming in at different times, and we had to adapt our transportation plan to that which was a huge challenge, but it worked out.”

Transportation Challenge

The biggest challenge, Kelly said, was redirecting the flights to Maui.

“Originally, everyone was supposed to fly directly to their islands at Molokai and Lanai, but due to safety concerns from the hurricane the decision was made to fly everyone into Maui,” she said. “This meant we had to move over 40 personnel and an enormous amount of equipment across the island to a ferry to Lanai.”

Kelly added, “We pieced it together when we could, but the ferries kept getting canceled due to the weather. It was challenging, but we made it work. We ran into the same challenge trying to get everyone and their equipment out to Molokai with their flights. But the aircrew from the Montana Air National Guard flying the C-130 were absolutely amazing and made it happen.”

Hurricane Hector moved away from the islands. Tropic Care participants arrived in Maui on Aug. 9, and were able to travel to their final clinic sites to prepare to receive patients by August 10. Clinics were able to open on schedule on Aug. 11.
Tropic Care Maui County 2018 is a joint-service training mission led by the Air National Guard and supported by members of the Air Force, Army, Navy Reserve, and Marine Corps Reserve. Tropic Care provides medical troops and support personnel “hands-on” readiness training to prepare for future deployments while providing direct and lasting benefits to the people of Maui, Molokai, and Lanai.