PORT ROYAL, Jamaica – Located in the middle of the Caribbean Sea, Jamaica is surrounded by beautiful beaches and tropical weather making it a popular destination for tourists from all over the world.
However, the small island, like much of the region between North and South America, is a potential location for illicit traffickers to use as a transit point to move illegal drugs across the region and into the United States. It is a concern for many across the island nation who see this activity as a threat to their security.
So when Special Warfare Combatant-craft Crewmen (SWCC) assigned to Special Boat Team – 22, in support of Special Operations Command South (SOCSOUTH), and members of the Naval Small Craft Instruction and Technical Training School, better known as NAVSCIATTS, participated in a Joint Combined Exchange Training event in Jamaica during the month of September.
Members of the Jamaica Defense Forces, simply known as the JDF, welcomed the group of American sailors.
The primary focus of this monthlong Joint Combined Exchange Training for the Stennis, Miss.- based special boat team and NAVSCIATTS personnel was to gain regional knowledge and improve their teaching abilities while training with members of the JDF.
Joint Combined Exchange Training also benefit U.S. Special Operations Forces because they allow SOF personnel to train in ally nations, like Jamaica, and hone their military tactics and skills in unfamiliar settings, while also improving bilateral relations and interoperability with other militaries.
For the JDF, this event also proved to be helpful. Although the JDF’s size is small compared to other nations across the Western Hemisphere, their military continues to expand into a well-rounded force with multiple skill sets, regardless of branch of service, in an effort to deter illicit traffickers from its borders and waterways.
During this event, more than 20 Jamaican service members, mostly from the Army and Coast Guard, saw this Joint Combined Exchange Training as a great opportunity to train and enhance their maritime operations and boat maintenance skills with U.S. service members.
“It is hard for the [Jamaican] Coast Guard to be tasked to do everything and we can do some of these operations and take the load off of them,” said a Jamaican Army officer, who serves as a troop commander. “We see ourselves in the future being able to do more operations and interdictions in the water.”
As part of SOCSOUTH’s Theater Security Cooperation program, these Joint Combined Exchange Training programs enable partner nations to increase their capacity to conduct security operations. SOCSOUTH, based in Homestead, Fla., is responsible for all U.S. Special Operations activities in the Caribbean, Central and South America; it serves as a component for U.S. Southern Command.
For U.S. Air Force Lt. Col. Timothy Piccin, who serves as the SOCSOUTH country officer for Jamaica and Trinidad and Tobago, this Joint Combined Exchange Training is vital in the continued training of all U.S. Naval forces working in the region but also serves a essential piece for the development of the JDF, specifically its maritime capabilities due to its geographically location.
“This program allows our [U.S.] forces to get excellent training in the region and it serves as a great benefit for our partner nations to increase their military capacity in a very unique platform where exchanging tactics and procedures benefit everyone involved,” he said. “From boat maintenance procedures to tactical training, this event allows everyone to train and learn from each other.”
During the first few days of the Joint Combined Exchange Training, members assigned to NAVSCIATTS trained with their Jamaican counterparts on basic watercraft maintenance skills and procedures. The maintenance portion of the Joint Combined Exchange Training ended with members of the JDF breaking down a boat engine piece by piece in order to learn standard boat engine components and putting it back together.
The final two weeks of the Joint Combined Exchange Training focused more on military tactics using boats as SWCC personnel trained with their Jamaican partners on specialize techniques, such as Visit, Board, Search, and Seizure, a maritime boarding action designed to capture hostile vessels and high value targets onboard a water craft. The U.S. sailors also instructed members of the JDF on boat interdiction and extraction techniques, boat handling maneuvers on small tactical boats, long-range navigation and close-quarters defense.
For SWCC members assigned to SBT 22, this JCET allowed them to learn new skills in a variety of different areas outside of their normal routine.
“This event is very important for us because it takes us away from our comfort zone and presents us with a different challenge,” said the U.S. Special Boat Operator Chief in charge of the Joint Combined Exchange Training. “We typically operate in rivers so working with the JDF in the open ocean really put us in conditions we are not use to, but it helped us learn how to work in those environments.”
For the SWCC members, this Joint Combined Exchange Training was also valuable because they built a strong partnership with members of the JDF.
“We have a great relationship with these guys, and we have learn a lot from them,” said the Special Boat Operator Chief. “From working out together to talking about our experiences, it has been great working with them.”
JDF members reflected those same sentiments following a small closing ceremony where each participate received a certificate of training from their American counterparts.
“I wish the training was longer, but they covered a little bit of everything and it is now our job to not lose what we learned and stay current,” said the Jamaica troop commander. “It was really great working with [SBT-22] them, and I wish we could have this type of event twice a year. We clicked right away and it was really fun to be with them.”
Piccin hopes to replicate this experience with a similar event sometime next year.
“There is no doubt this exchange greatly benefits both the U.S. and JDF in order to learn new techniques to protect the region from the threat of transnational organized crime,” he said. “We hope to continue to work with our JDF partners and are planning to do this again next year.”