By Ensign James Martin
In early March, the crew of CGC Valiant was wrapping up a 2-month Joint Inter Agency Task Force South (JIATFS) counter narcotics patrol in the Eastern Pacific Ocean. During the patrol, the crew had interdicted eight go-fast vessels, seized 4.7 tons of cocaine valued at over $141 million, and detained 23 suspected smugglers. Before heading back through the Panama Canal, the ship stopped at Vasco NuÃ±ez de Balboa Naval Base near Panama City, Panama, for a three-day port visit.
Despite their accomplishments, Valiant's crew had one more job to do before returning to homeport in Mayport, Florida. Prior to the start of the patrol, the ship worked with Panama's Coast Guard Liaison Officer and the Coast Guard's Office of International Affairs to plan a partner nation engagement with Panama's National Air and Naval Service, known as SENAN (Servicio Nacional Aeronaval).
SENAN is a branch of the Public Forces of the Republic of Panama responsible for carrying out naval and air operations. Its mission is to "Perform protection, surveillance, security and defense of the air and maritime jurisdictional areas of the Republic of Panama."
SENAN was officially formed in 2008 after a merger of Panama's National Maritime Service and the National Air Service.
The Coast Guard Office of International Affairs and Foreign Policy arranged the engagement with the Panamanian Government. This would be the first such engagement with SENAN in nearly two years. The partner nation engagement directly supported the US Coast Guard Western Hemisphere Strategy which is designed to guide Coast Guard efforts in the region over the next 10 years. This strategy emphasizes the Coast Guard's highest objectives through three broadly defined strategic priorities: Combating Networks, Securing Borders, and Safeguarding Commerce.
Lt. Cmdr. Kevin Hill, the Coast Guard Liaison Officer to Panama, was instrumental in arranging the event. "The professional exchange between Panama's Air and Naval Service (SENAN) and USCGC Valiant was a successful professional exchange between two maritime partners. Both SENAN and the USCG look forward to similar exchanges in the future," said Hill.
Lt. Cmdr. Kristen Hahn, the Regional Advisor for South and Central America at the US Coast Guard Office of International Affairs and Foreign Policy helped the cutter develop the engagement agenda. She applauded the cutter's efforts in coordinating this successful engagement, noting "We view Panama, particularly SENAN, as a very capable, willing partner who can serve as a regional force multiplier in the mission to combat transnational organized crime."
The day-long engagement took at the ship and on the pier while moored at the naval base.
It was comprised of three training sessions, affording the Valiant's crew the opportunity to share their skill and knowledge with SENAN. The three sessions included law enforcement control techniques, small boat tactics, and voice and visual communications.
Each session was 30 minutes long and led by Valiant's subject matter experts. After each period, the SENAN contingent rotated groups to ensure they experienced each topic. The law enforcement control techniques were taught by the ship's Maritime Enforcement Specialists, ME1 Terence Klingele and ME3 Ronnie Hale.
"This was a really unique opportunity for us to be able to work with another nation's military and showcase our knowledge and skill," said Klingele. "It's a reminder that we as a Coast Guard are some of the best at what we do and to be able to share that with a friendly military is a neat experience."
Chief Boatswain's Mate Derrick Borel and BM1 Conor Hotchkiss led small boat tactics training in Valiant's Cutter Boat Large (CB-L), one of the ship's two surface assets used in drug interdiction cases.
The duo, along with Machinery Technician Second Class Freddy Zamora, illustrated approaches and pursuit tactics for Non-Compliant Vessels.
On the bridge, the topics changed to voice and visual communications. Operations Specialist Second Class Zavier Washington and OS2 Walter Lewis reviewed proper radio etiquette and gave an overview of the complex communications procedures during drug interdiction cases. In addition, BM3 Trevor Wilson demonstrated tactical visual communication procedures.
ENS Craig Rooke led a discussion concerning operational risk management and assessment, a concept unfamiliar to his Panamanian counterparts. ENS Rooke explained that operational risk management is a continuous, systematic process of identifying and controlling risks in all activities. To illustrate, he explained how Coast Guard crews use the GAR model before every operational evolution.
A unique element of the day's training was the language barrier. Few of the SENAN members spoke English, so in typical Coast Guard can-do spirit, Valiant's Spanish translators took the challenge in stride and translated for each of the sessions. Machinery Technician Third Class Orlando Vazquez, MK2 Freddy Zamora, SK1 Mark Velez, and Seaman Abelardo Vinas were instrumental in the engagement's success.
Following the morning's training, the SENAN contingent and Valiant's crew parted ways to prepare for the day's most important events-soccer and lunch! After changing into athletic attire, Team Valiant marched down the Rodman Naval Station pier with enough food for two crews. SENAN arranged for a bus to transport the crew to their athletic field, located a few miles away. After a short drive, the bus approached the main naval base. After a brief stop at the gate, the bus and Valiant's 30-member soccer team was ushered through with a wave.
The bus slowed to a halt as it came to the field and the driver announced, "Aqui." Even Valiant's non-Spanish speakers knew it was time to play.
At kick-off it was immediately apparent that the Panamanians actually knew how to play soccer. While Valiant had a few crew members who played in high school, the Panamanians were all seasoned soccer players. They all understood the mechanics and could be relied upon to string together passes. Meanwhile, Valiant's crew sprinted to the ball and relied upon brute determination to counter the Panamanian's talent. A veritable game of David vs. Goliath ensued.
Ninety minutes later, Panama's lead entered double digits. Valiant had yet to score, and there was talk of stopping. "Next goal wins" was quickly agreed upon, and the fiercest play of the day ensued. Team Valiant did their best Miracle on Ice impersonation, desperately trying to defeat a superior Panamanian squad. Amazingly, Team VALAINT finally put one in the net, with Electronic Technician Second Class Michael Sarkar driving home a header.
Exhausted but proud, both teams agreed that was a great place to end. Lounging on the sidelines, both squads finished the cheeseburger feast. Reliving the plays of the game and laughing about the obvious mis-match, one SENAN member announced in Spanish, "It doesn't matter, we are all winners today!"