Port of Spain, Trinidad - A team of U.S. Navy divers and medical professionals arrived in Port of Spain, Aug. 8 to begin subject matter expert exchanges (SMEE) and partner capacity building engagements with the Trinidad and Tobago military and security forces as part of Southern Partnership Station (SPS) 2018.
Held on an annual basis by U.S. Southern Command and executed by U.S. Naval Forces Southern Command/U.S. 4th Fleet, Southern Partnership Station is a U.S. Navy deployment focused on SMEEs with partner nation militaries and security forces in the Caribbean, Central and South America.
This year’s deployment will visit Trinidad and Tobago, Colombia, Honduras, Panama and El Salvador to work alongside those nations’ military forces, security forces, civilian health professionals, and other governmental agencies.
The SPS mission is normally supported by the expeditionary fast transport ship USNS Spearhead (T-EPF 1), but this engagement will see teams arriving in Trinidad and Tobago aboard the Whidbey Island-class amphibious dock landing ship USS Gunston Hall (LSD 44).
At a press conference on arrival of Gunston Hall in Port of Spain, John McIntyre, U.S. Embassy Chargé d’Affaires said the U.S. Navy’s partnership with the Trinidad and Tobago Defence Force, through exercises like Southern Partnership Station, continues to strengthen the safety and security of the citizens of both the U.S. and Trinidad and Tobago. The exchange was also applauded by Commander Don Polo, Acting Commanding Officer of the Trinidad and Tobago Coast Guard.
Gunston Hall’s visit to Trinidad and Tobago is part of the Southern Seas mission that is operating simultaneously with Southern Partnership Station. Southern Seas is an annual collaborative deployment in the U.S. Southern Command area of responsibility where a task group deploys to conduct various exercises and multinational exchanges to enhance interoperability, increase regional stability, and build and maintain regional relationships. Both Southern Partnership Station and Southern Seas operate under the leadership of Capt. Brian J. Diebold, commodore of Destroyer Squadron (DESRON) 40.
Southern Partnership Station focuses on enhancing cooperative partnerships with regional maritime services and improving operational readiness for all participants. Additionally, the mission will provide an opportunity for U.S. and partner nations to operate in a multinational environment, refine coordination, improve interoperability, and demonstrate flexibility.
“We are here to execute diving subject matter expert exchanges with Trinidad and Tobago’s diving and salvage forces,” said Lt. Larry Salazar, company commander of Company 21, Mobile Diving and Salvage Unit (MDSU) 2, the unit participating in Southern Partnership Station.
“Our exchange topics include scuba and surface supplied diving operations, dive casualty diagnosis and treatment, underwater search procedures, and area search procedures with towed sonar,” said Salazar.
“My dive and salvage company is part of MDSU-2, and our command is a key participant in Southern Partnership Station's mission,” said Salazar. “We exchange new diving techniques and procedures, and these engagements help strengthen U.S. and partner nation diving and salvage capabilities and interoperability.”
While the U.S. diving and salvage team engages with coast guard divers, an 11-person Fleet Health Engagement Team (FHET) will conduct SMEEs with the Trinidad and Tobago army and coast guard including exchanges with medical and non-medical personnel.
“The FHET will conduct subject matter expert exchanges with military and civilian organizations to effectively share U.S. Navy medicine’s best practices and lessons learned,” said Lt. David Cruz, FHET officer in charge. “The team will engage in humanitarian assistance and disaster relief, tactical combat casualty care, and public health exchanges to effectively develop strong partnerships across the U.S. Southern Command’s area of responsibility.”
SPS is a demonstration of the strong U.S. commitment to partners in the Caribbean, Central and South America, fostering goodwill and enhancing our collective ability to respond to natural disasters and humanitarian crises. SPS 18 will conclude in October 2018.