Reservists Play Major Role in PANAMAX 2014

Story Number: NNS140815-21Release Date: 8/15/2014 7:33:00 PM

By By Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Andre N. McIntyre, U.S. Naval Forces Southern Command/U.S. 4th Fleet Public Affairs

MAYPORT, Fla. (NNS) -- Navy Reservists from across the country played a major role in PANAMAX 2014, filling 161 billets on the Combined Forces Maritime Component Commander (CFMCC) staff at Naval Station Mayport and 52 billets at Multi-National Forces South (MNFS) headquarters at Fort Sam Houston, Texas.

The purpose of PANAMAX is to exercise a variety of responses to any request from the government of Panama to protect and guarantee safe passage of traffic through the Panama Canal while respecting national sovereignty.

Rear Adm. Benjamin Calle of the Colombian navy served as CFMCC commander for the exercise, which ran from Aug. 4-15 and included more than 1,200 participants at six locations, with Rear Adm. Jon Matheson of the U.S. Navy as his deputy commander.

Matheson, the deputy commander of U.S. Naval Forces Southern Command and U.S. 4th Fleet (USNAVSO/4th Fleet), is a Navy Reservist.

"This exercise is a large one, and in order to make it work we have to staff the manning document appropriately," said Matheson. "It would have been impossible to execute this mission utilizing just the staff from the USNAVSO/4th Fleet team. In order to meet the objectives for this exercise, we needed to rely on augmentees, many of whom were from the Reserve Component, and the wealth of knowledge that they bring from previous experiences and their civilian skill sets."

The exercise involved more than 340 military members at Mayport, where Navy Reservists filled nearly half of the billets.

Lt. Monica Iannacone, a Navy Reservist on active duty as the operational support officer and deputy personnel officer for USNAVSO/4th Fleet, was responsible for filling the joint manning document. Her staff members were the human resource managers.

"We screened each reserve billet to make sure we had the best candidate in place," said Iannacone. "The Reservists that we brought aboard are experts in their fields, which made them key role players to completing the mission, as they held many leadership roles. This exercise depended heavily on them in order for PANAMAX to succeed."

For example, Capt. Steven Grover of Information Dominance Corps Region Southeast served as the lead planner for fires. Cmdr. Eric Denis of Navy Reserve Strategic Cyber Command directed information operations.

For all of the Reservists, PANAMAX represented an opportunity to refresh and sharpen military skills.

"This is the bread and butter for us," said Information Systems Technician 1st Class James Lane, a member of NR Commander Destroyer Squadron 40, Detachment Bravo, and an account executive in civilian life.

"We don't get 365 days a year to get hands on training like this," said Lane. "We have to do it in two weeks. So, we have a lot of initiative to step up our game when we report to our Navy jobs."

During the exercise, Lane was leading petty officer for the communications cell, which maintained CENTRIXS systems CFMCC used for much of the work it did.

"The communications unit is the backbone of the operation," said Lane. "Without us, orders could not be passed and instruction can't be received."

For the exercise, 80 military members from Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, the Dominican Republic, El Salvador, France, Jamaica, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico, Panama, Paraguay and Peru participated on the CFMCC staff.

"I had a preconceived notion before this exercise, but that has all changed," said Lane. "I have always thought that the U.S. military is the brightest and sharpest tack on the wall, but we all have something to bring to the table."

MNFS was commanded by Maj. Gen. Joseph DiSalvo of U.S. Army South, the Army component for U.S. Southern Command. Capt. Joey Dodgen, the commanding officer of the USNAVSO/4th Fleet reserve unit, was among the Navy members attached to the MNFS headquarters staff.

"Due to the complex maritime environment surrounding the Panama Canal, it was imperative to have the right naval representatives available to advise the commander and to liaise with the other land and air components to create a synergy of effort," said Dodgen.

The commander's staff relied heavily on their expertise, and the Navy members succeeded in transferring a great deal of knowledge to U.S. and partner-nation participants, but the work wasn't easy, Dodgen said.

"Integrating with the U.S. Army-led headquarters in a maritime-centric environment provided many challenges," he said. "Add to that 17 partner nations and a language barrier, and you see how complex this operation really is. Our active and Reserve Sailors really answered the call and gained the respect of their U.S. and partner nation peers. I was very proud of their strong, professional representation of CFMCC and as naval warfare subject matter experts."

An important goal of PANAMAX was to develop and sustain relationships that improve the capacity of emerging partners' security forces to achieve common desired goals while fostering friendly cooperation and understanding among participating forces.

"This is an exercise in which many challenges intersect, but in the end we worked through them," said Matheson. "By integrating, we became better. Some of the things we worked through were different languages, national caveats, perspectives and capabilities, but during the exercise we learned a lot and also got the best from one another."

"PANAMAX is a fantastic opportunity for all of us to understand the challenges that are going to exist," said Matheson. "It is important because in the event of a humanitarian assistance or natural disaster effort in our hemisphere, we will need to come together quickly and be effective."

U.S. Naval Forces Southern Command, which hosted the CFMCC portion of PANAMAX 2014, 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.

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