NEWS | Dec. 8, 2013

CULEX provides training, strengthens U.S., Honduras relationship

By Capt. Zach Anderson Joint Task Force-Bravo Public Affairs

More than 90 members of Joint Task Force-Bravo deployed to Mocoron, a remote Honduran military outpost in the Department of Gracias a Dios, Honduras, as part of a Culminating Exercise (CULEX) conducted by the Task Force, Dec. 2-5.

The CULEX was built around the scenario of a category II hurricane striking the Caribbean coast of Honduras, and the Honduran government requesting U.S. support. In the exercise scenario, Joint Task Force-Bravo was directed by U.S. Southern Command to deploy an assessment team and medical team to the affected area to immediately alleviate human suffering.

For the exercise, Joint Task Force-Bravo deployed the U.S. Southern Command Survey and Assessment Team (S-SAT) which includes civil affairs, medical, communication and logistics personnel. The S-SAT is a USSOUTHCOM asset designed to provide a rapidly deployable team of experts anywhere in Central America within 18 hours of notification in order to respond to any type of disaster relief scenario. The complexity of the CULEX put the team's capabilities to the test.

"In order for us to deploy here, numerous lifts had to be coordinated using Joint Task Force-Bravo's aviation assets," said U.S. Army Lt. Col. Alan McKewan, S-SAT Team Leader. "We occupied very austere conditions and had to set up our logistics, establish our communication and power--all of those elements were necessary for this operation. That couples with the fact that we did four to five moves of people and equipment each day and our medical element treated more than 500 patients each day at remote locations. It's all very similar to what we would have to do to address a population that is isolated in the event of a real-world disaster."

Part of the exercise included two real-world Medical Readiness Training Exercises (MEDRETES) conducted by Joint Task Force-Bravo's Medical Element (MEDEL) in the villages of Auka and Tipimuna. During the MEDRETES, MEDEL personnel treated more than 1,200 patients.

U.S. Army Capt. Vicki English, a veteran of several MEDRETES, said performing the real-world medical mission as part of the CULEX made this mission somewhat different than previous MEDRETES.
"It's different, because we are working as part of the disaster relief validation exercise for Joint Task Force-Bravo," said English. "Everyone participating in the exercise really worked well together to help provide much needed medical care to the population. The people here don't have medical care, and for many it's the first time they have ever seen a doctor. It's humbling to be able to help them and meet some of their needs."

Julie Schechter Torres, Deputy Chief of Mission for the U.S. Embassy in Tegucigalpa, Honduras, visited the site at Mocoron and was briefed on the capabilities of the S-SAT. Torres also visited the MEDRETE site at Auka and observed Joint Task Force-Bravo's medical personnel in action.

"Joint Task Force-Bravo is a gem for Honduras and the U.S. government working in Honduras and throughout the region," said Torres. "The ability of Joint Task Force-Bravo to respond to emergencies is so incredibly valuable to everything we are doing in this region. The overall mission of the U.S. government in Honduras is to help Honduras strengthen its security, improve inclusive economic development, and strengthen democratic institutions. Joint Task Force-Bravo's work on the security side as well as operations like this for humanitarian situations supports the entire U.S. government effort in Honduras."

The CULEX, while validating the operational capabilities of Joint Task Force-Bravo, also served to strengthen the relationship between the U.S. and Honduras.

"In this operation, we've partnered with local Honduran nationals, Honduran medical providers, the Honduran military, and we have the U.S. Army and Air Force working together," said McKewan. "There is a lot of partnership and working together throughout, to include the U.S. Embassy's involvement. It really shows how building partnership capacity and the bonds we have between our two nations are so important, and that is reinforced through this exercise."

Each element of Joint Task Force-Bravo performed its mission during the CULEX, and McKewan said the exercise was a success.

"The exercise had numerous challenges, but overall it was an outstanding operation," he said. "We had the opportunity to work with the Honduran military, civilians and healthcare providers and to provide help for local citizens. You simply can't put a price tag on how important that is. The overall teamwork displayed across Joint Task Force-Bravo in an operation like this is just outstanding."