SOTO CANO AIR BASE, Honduras —
SOTO CANO AIR BASE, Honduras - Combined forces from Colombia and the U.S. concluded Exercise Vita at Fort Buenavista, Colombia, during a ceremony March 17 that marked more than two weeks of operations in the country's La Guajira region. More than 150 members of Joint Task Force-Bravo, based out of Soto Cano Air Base in Honduras, worked together with members of the Colombian Armed Forces and numerous government agencies to accomplish key training events for the exercise.
Exercise Vita is a combined interoperability exercise that brought participants together to perform humanitarian and civic-action operations, including multiple medical readiness training events. The exercise focused on reinforcing longstanding security cooperation ties and enhancing participants' overall readiness, while demonstrating U.S. Southern Command's enduring promise to the Americas.
"We have the great challenge of continuing to consolidate day-to-day bilateral cooperation between our two nations," said Colombian Army Maj. Gen. Hugo Lopez Barreto, commander of the combined arms task force and senior officer in charge of Exercise Vita, during an opening ceremony March 9. "This type of exercise allows the development of international missions aimed at the adequate integration of troops while maintaining the highest level of operational readiness."
During the exercise, Colombian and U.S. forces conducted three medical and surgical readiness events in areas identified by the host-nation government as having the greatest need, benefitting nearly 1,300 patients in communities in La Guajira. Participants provided services that included preventative medicine, public health, pharmacy and dental, improving their medical readiness by practicing operations in a remote, austere location that required significant planning and logistical coordination.
Additionally, civil-military affairs teams oversaw the provision of more than $65,000 in humanitarian donations, including the delivery of a $10,000 surgical table to the San Rafael Hospital in San Juan del Cesar -- the site of one of the surgical medical readiness events -- that will allow the busy medical facility to help more patients in the future.
"For our population, this donation is very important because we have a great number of very vulnerable people," said Eliana Mendoza, San Rafael Hospital director. "We are very grateful that you have taken us into account and for this wonderful [surgical table.]"
U.S. Army Lt. Col. Jeffrey Uherka, civil-military operations director, oversaw U.S. civil affairs participants integrated with their Colombian counterparts who projected forward to the medical readiness events from a combined civil-military operations center in Uribia. Their role was to identify targeted opportunities to amplify the effects of exercise operations.
"The way our team amplifies effects is by helping partners such as the [Colombian Civil Defense] integrate into medical readiness exercises while bringing key leaders to increase trust between the population and their government," Uherka said.
Members of the 1st Battalion, 228th Aviation Regiment with JTF-Bravo provided freedom of movement for combined forces to remote areas of the region throughout the exercise. During multiple combined training events, they grew common skills through planning and execution of operations that included helicopter hoist training and medical evacuation practice.
For both countries' participants, the exercise represented a chance to grow together and learn together, improving on an already-strong security relationship while providing critical services to communities in need.
"We realize that we can work together more to be more interoperable between both countries with the purpose of bringing wellbeing and joy to the vulnerable communities of La Guajira," said Colombian Army Maj. Cristian Loaiza, Comprehensive Action and Development Battalion No. 1 commander and exercise participant. "It's very gratifying because we acquire more knowledge, we work harder to become excellent partners, and outside of that we continue to grow our great, enduring friendship between both militaries."
That integration was particularly noticeable between JTF-Bravo and the host unit at Fort Buenavista: the Medium Combined Arms Task Force (FUTAM). The unit is Colombia's primary task force postured to respond to contingencies. During remarks at the opening ceremony, U.S. Army Col. Steven Barry, JTF-Bravo commander, recognized the FUTAM as a 'sister unit.'
"We share a bond that is indicative of the strong relationship between our nations," Barry said. "Our units are both unique task forces charged with preparing to project forces where they are needed. In this way, we have a head start, a common framework off which we can work."
Even to the end, Exercise Vita focused on partnership. When exercise activities were suspended due in part to the novel coronavirus outbreak affecting Colombia and the region, a coordinated effort between the Armed Forces of Colombia and U.S. Transportation Command ensured a quick return of JTF-Bravo personnel and supplies to Soto Cano AB to be postured as a dynamic force for U.S. Southern Command.
"We would like to thank our Colombian hosts, including the men and women of the Colombian Armed Forces and the numerous government agencies from whom we have learned so much," Barry said. "We look forward to the day when we can again work side-by-side for the benefit of our combined team and of the Colombian people."