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News | May 15, 2023

Keel Billed Toucan 2023 flexes JTF-Bravo's medical, aviation skills in Panama

By Tech. Sgt. Duncan McElroy Joint Task Force-Bravo

More than 100 medics, aviators and support personnel assigned to Joint Task Force-Bravo participated in the humanitarian assistance and disaster response (HA/DR) exercise Keel Billed Toucan 2023 in Panama, May 9, 2023.

The exercise, known as “Mercurio V” in Panama, reinforced tactics, techniques and procedures for moving personnel and assets, as well as providing a range of healthcare services, for JTF-Bravo and its partners in Panama’s national border service, Servicio Nacional de Fronteras (SENAFRONT) and aeronaval service, Servicio Nacional Aeronaval (SENAN), as well as the United States Agency for International Development (USAID).

“At its core, it’s a training exercise to make JTF-Bravo better and allow us to work with our partners in Panama to be better in HA/DR,” said U.S. Army Col. Phillip Brown, JTF-Bravo commander. “The beauty of the Mercurio exercises is that we’re not just training, we’re doing; so we’re providing medical assistance to remote communities, just like we do in a disaster. We’re moving construction materials to remote sites, just like we would do in a disaster.”

Throughout the exercise, CH-47 Chinooks and UH- and HH-60 Black Hawks from the U.S. Army’s 1st Battalion, 228th Aviation Regiment transported more than 685,000 pounds of construction and medical material to remote outposts and communities in southern Panama.

The U.S. Army’s 394th Field Hospital, Det. 2, currently assigned to JTF-Bravo’s Medical Element, provided care in the form of preventative health and hygiene lessons, as well as primary care, pharmacy and dental services to more than 1,300 people in the remote communities of Jaque and Puerto Pina, Panama. The medical training, known as a Medical Readiness Training Exercise (MEDRETE) is a part of the Global Health Engagement initiative designed to integrate JTF-Bravo medical personnel with local counterparts to provide care.

“The focus on the ‘T’ in MEDRETE is very important,” said U.S. Army 1st Lt. Aaron Fortenberry, Surgeon Cell medical planner. “Now that we’ve mostly moved out of theater environments, remote training exercises and deployments are becoming less frequent, so opportunities to experience an austere environment where there’s no air conditioning and you have to sleep on the floor are less common. KBT is a peaceful opportunity to gain skills they may need later. It’s absolutely essential.”

To achieve accurate efforts and results from operating in a forward deployed environment away from Honduras, where the task force is based, teams of logistics planners, fuelers and air traffic controllers also forward deployed and worked hand-in-hand with Panamanian counterparts.

“There’s another layer of value in the partner nation relationships we make,” Fortenberry said. “We’re meeting SENAFRONT and SENAN. We work together and shake hands, then after this we’ll all move on, but that nation-to-nation engagement is lasting. Watching all the Soldiers trade patches [with SENAFRONT] has been a lot of fun. We see qualities in each other we want to emulate.”

Continuing the U.S. and Panama’s long-standing collaborative relationship, KBT 23 featured heavy involvement from SENAFRONT and SENAN in both the logistics and execution portions of the exercise.

“The most important thing is that the units train together and we know how to work together,” said Brown. “Through personal relationships, through teamwork and understanding how processes work, to include where we would stage our helicopters, equipment and supplies to move to a disaster area.

“Why is this important? The faces we see, the families changed, the food, medicine and schools delivered,” he said. “For this reason, we leave our families back in the U.S. to join you in caring for your communities. We are a team of teams.”

Exercises like KBT 23 help build skills in JTF-Bravo’s service members and ready them to provide critical aid when called upon if a disaster happens in the region, ensuring they remain trusted partners to our Central American neighbors.

“I love getting to know the people and seeing how thankful they are, it’s very rewarding,” said U.S. Army Spc. Alexandria Long, MEDEL preventative medicine specialist. “Taking in all the culture and spending time with the people has been an experience of a lifetime. I feel very thankful to be here and [KBT 23] is an amazing thing we get to be a part of. I hope we can come back again.”

To see photos from the exercise, click the below links:
KBT23 Album 1
KBT23 Album 2
KBT23 Album 3