Story Number: NNS140807-28Release Date: 8/7/2014 8:28:00 PM
By Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Andre N. McIntyre, U.S. Naval Forces Southern Command/U.S. 4th Fleet Public Affairs
ST. AUGUSTINE, Fla. (NNS) -- Approximately 50 members of partner nation navies traveled to St. Augustine, Florida, to experience America's Spanish heritage before the start of PANAMAX 2014, an exercise held at Naval Station Mayport Aug. 4.
After a morning of briefings at Mayport, the partner nation participants boarded buses for a 55-minute trip to America's oldest city.
Cmdr. Chris Schenck of U.S. Naval Forces Southern Command/U.S. 4th Fleet, the exercise director, arranged the event.
"This is a great experience for multi-national forces as they take part in the American culture," said Schenck. "Many have never visited the United States."
On their arrival in St. Augustine the visitors were invited to a luncheon at A1A Ale Works Restaurant, where they were treated to southern cuisine.
"We want them to get a feel for the flavor of the south and a little southern hospitality," said Erin D'Agostino, the group-sales manager of the restaurant. "We served fried chicken, pulled pork, mashed potatoes, corn on the cob, corn bread, sweet tea, chocolate cake, key lime pie and more."
"The food was great," said Lt. Maria Del Pilar Jaramillo, a lieutenant in the Columbian navy who is serving as the deputy public affairs officer for the exercise. "I really enjoyed the cornbread, because it is not much different from arepa."
Arepa, a staple food of Columbian cuisine, is a flatbread made of ground maize dough or flour.
"I really enjoyed the relaxed setting and the opportunity to mingle with friends from other countries," said Jaramillo.
After lunch, the visitors were given the rest of the afternoon and part of the evening off to enjoy sightseeing and shopping.
Jaramillo said she was struck by what she saw.
"St. Augustine is such a beautiful place," she said. "The building and architecture are influenced by the Spanish culture, and it feels like home. I really wished we had more time to experience it all."
Among the places Jaramillo and others visited was Castillo de San Marcos, which was constructed by the Spanish between 1672 and 1695.
Thomas Fromage, a lieutenant commander in the French navy, is working as a maritime planning officer during PANAMAX. He went on the trip, and was impressed by the fortress and the influence the Spanish had left on the region.
"It was surprising for me because I didn't imagine that in the U.S. I could find such an old city," said Fromage. "I realized that Florida was part of Spain during the 16th Century. I was surprised by the number of people who spoke Spanish here, but I can understand."
PANAMAX 2014 is a U.S. sponsored, multinational annual exercise. This year includes participants from 15 nations: Colombia, Panama, Chile, Peru, Dominican Republic, Guatemala, Honduras, Paraguay, Mexico, El Salvador, Jamaica, France, Brazil, Costa Rica and the United States.
More than 320 military personnel, including 80 members of partner nations are participating in the maritime portion of the exercise at Mayport.
U.S. Naval Forces Southern Command, the host of the exercise, supports U.S. Southern Command's joint and combined military operations by employing maritime forces in cooperative maritime security operations in order to maintain access, enhance interoperability, and build enduring partnerships in order to enhance regional security and promote peace, stability, and prosperity in the Caribbean, Central and South American regions.
For more news from U.S. Naval Forces Southern Command & U.S. 4th Fleet, visit www.navy.mil/local/cusns/.