Story by Sgt. 1st Class Victor Aguirre, Special Operations Command South
Hurricanes, large-scale migration, counter-narcotics trafficking, and the outbreak of Coronavirus disease (COVID-19) have made 2020 a challenging year worldwide. Although travel around the world has slowed to a crawl, crises have not, thus requiring Special Operations Command South (SOCSOUTH) to continue supporting partner nations through humanitarian assistance and military exchanges.
SOCSOUTH has operated in the southern region of the Western Hemisphere for well over four decades, conducting operations from disaster relief to multilateral military operations in Central America, South America, and the Caribbean. As such, SOCSOUTH is postured to support partner nations in times of emerging crises and prepared to take action at a moment’s notice to assist its allies. As a key function of crisis response, airborne operations enable this assistance.
“However, airborne operations were halted to minimize the spread of COVID-19 within our organization and the local community,” stated SOCSOUTH Operations Officer Col. Jay Brooke. “We resumed airborne operations in early 2021 as vaccines became available for military personnel and the general public.” Many consider airborne operations antiquated in today’s modern age of hypersonic missiles and cyber warfare. However, finding the opportunity to reinitiate the perishable skillset of airborne operations safely in a COVID-19 environment enhanced SOCSOUTH’s ability to conduct rapid response and provide the best support possible to U.S. allies in our southern hemisphere.
“SOCSOUTH’s deployed operational forces have conducted multiple airborne operations with our partners across the Western Hemisphere in 2021, and it provides the operational force with an opportunity to conduct interoperability training, share techniques and procedures, and sustain partnerships,” said Col. Brooke.
In addition to executing airborne operations to maintain readiness and proficiency, SOCSOUTH also conducts rapid deployment preparations, because a quick deployment is not as simple as grabbing a backpack full of equipment and boarding a plane. Passports and visas are still required for service members that deploy to partnered countries at a moment’s notice. No exemptions are made for military personnel assisting in crises. Furthermore, negative COVID-19 results are required to enter any country. If coordinating the movement of personnel and equipment is not carefully aligned, forces may not arrive at the point of need when requested.
“A crisis could be a natural disaster or human-made in the U.S. Southern Command (SOUTHCOM) Area of Responsibility (AOR). SOCSOUTH personnel would deploy to be the ‘eyes and ears’ of the SOUTHCOM Commander in the crisis area,” said SOCSOUTH Joint Effects Division Director Lt. Col. Clay Curtis. “The [SOCSOUTH deployed] element coordinates with the U.S. embassy in the crisis area and provides SOUTHCOM Commander situational awareness.”
“For crisis response exercises, it is essential for SOCSOUTH elements to work with embassies in the AOR.” Curtis said. “The main reason why it is important is that the U.S. Ambassador and Country Team are responsible to the U.S. President for any U.S. activity occurring in the host nation.”
U.S. embassies play a vital role in military personnel’s travel as the embassies are the liaison in the host nation. SOCSOUTH must coordinate with the embassy to track all U.S. personnel in the country.
For many years, the United States sought cooperation with countries in the Western Hemisphere to enhance regional security and stability. However, in recent years authoritarian state actors like China, Russia, and Iran have increased their activities and interests in the region. These actors provide financial support in exchange for market share in a nation’s economy through predatory loans or fuel support for countries opposing the U.S., such as Cuba and Venezuela
“China, Russia, and Iran all have global ambitions and interests, including the Western Hemisphere. There is no denying they seek to destabilize regions worldwide by fueling regional economic and political tensions,” said Col. Brooke. “The U.S. continues to support democracies and partner nations across Central and South America and the Caribbean as it has for the past 40 years.”
SOCSOUTH gains and strengthens relationships through theater security cooperation, counter transnational criminal organizations, and counter-terrorism purposes with partner nations’ special operations units in the SOUTHCOM AOR (e.g., Special Forces, Civil Affairs, Psychological Operations, Special Operations Aviation, and Naval Special Warfare elements). SOCSOUTH is the most consistent partner in the region.
Partner nations share the Western Hemisphere as a common neighborhood where all countries, not just the U.S., have a critical interest in maintaining security, trade, and stability. Our partner nations look to the U.S. as a reliable partner who consistently answers the call in providing professional training while recognizing our shared customs, culture, and values.
“Partner nations continue to request training and maintain the readiness of their military force to respond to regional security concerns such as the Chinese Fleet off the coast of the Galapagos and Argentinian waters,” said Brooke. “Training has shifted from ground level activities to institution building as the U.S. also works closely with partner nations on strategic planning and humanitarian assistance.”
During October and November 2020, the U.S. provided humanitarian assistance in Honduras, Guatemala, El Salvador, and Nicaragua after Hurricanes Eta and Iota devastated Central America, creating landslides and flooding that devastated large regions of these countries. When support is needed, SOCSOUTH personnel are ready to deploy, establish, and redeploy a crisis response element.