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Caribbean nations dive into US-sponsored maritime training in Antigua-Barbuda
Published on June 13, 2014 Email To Friend    Print Version

Royal Canadian Navy’s Zach Verdun (right) instructs Defence Forces Jamaica’s Richard Nicholson (left) and St Kitts Coast Guard’s Mervin Lewis, during Tradewinds dive training June 2 

ST JOHN’S, Antigua -- For six days in June, more than 100 members of the US military, Royal Canadian Navy and military units of 11 Caribbean nations commuted daily across the island of Antigua to conduct maritime training during the first phase of Tradewinds 2014.

Tradewinds is a joint and combined exercise designed to enhance the military and law enforcement capabilities of Caribbean partner nations in maritime security and disaster response training. The exercise provided five maritime training tracks and daily instruction took place at three Antigua and Barbuda Defense Force military installations on the island.

Instructors with the US Coast Guard and Royal Canadian Navy conducted training that included search diving methods, small boat handling skills, engineering, military law enforcement and operations center protocols. Participants from Antigua and Barbuda, The Bahamas, Belize, Dominica, Grenada, Guyana, Jamaica, St Kitts and Nevis, St Vincent and the Grenadines, Suriname, and Trinidad and Tobago attended.

Absent from the exercise are personnel from Saint Lucia, which is barred from receiving US aid and assistance for its security forces under the so-called Leahy Amendment pending the resolution of alleged human rights violations by the police.'Leahy-Law'-ban,-PM-confirms-17335.html

“The United States is one of many equal partners in the Caribbean, and United States Southern Command is interested as much in human rights, developing deep and lasting partnerships across a large range of issues, diplomacy, economic development and environmental matters as it is in military topics,” said US Marine General John F. Kelly, commander of the US Southern Command, the executive planning agency for the exercise. “Like the other nations participating in Tradewinds, we place a very high value on this training and the understanding and cooperation it fosters.”

Divers with the Royal Canadian Navy Fleet Diving Unit Atlantic out of Halifax, Nova Scotia, worked with partner nations’ divers to assist in standardizing search procedures and techniques. Instructors determined diving abilities of each participant, whose experience ranged from one or two recent dives to more than 20 years of diving experience. They focused on underwater large vessel search techniques to assist divers in locating limpet mines, a type of naval mine usually detonated with a fuse.

Leading Seaman Richard Nicholson, a diver with the Jamaican Defence Force, said those search procedures also can assist him with locating illicit narcotics on vessels passing through Jamaican waters.

“We normally face threats like marijuana being bolted onto the keel of the vessel,” Nicholson said. “Even though this [search technique] specializes in the search of limpet mines, it works fine with whichever application and all situations.”

Nicholson, who trains divers, said the instruction methods the Royal Canadian Navy divers used are something he can apply. He appreciated the opportunity to share knowledge and work with the US and Canadian service members to enhance his skills.

“When I heard that I was going to be part of this exercise, I really looked forward to it, as I’ve worked before with the United States Coast Guard and Navy,” said Nicholson. “I trained for four months at the [Naval Surface Warfare Center] in Panama City, Florida, and it was a wonderful experience. Every time I get the opportunity to train with [the United States] I look forward to it and relish it.”

While divers improved upon search techniques, US Coast Guardsmen worked with partner nations’ small boat coxswains to train on boat handling.

Other training focused on pursuit techniques partner-nation participants can use when they suspect drug smugglers or human traffickers in their waters. The class started similarly to the diving track, with instructors getting a feel for the abilities of the team to which they’re assigned.

“You can tell pretty quickly where a student is as far as craft and skills go,” said Petty Officer 1st Class Justin Boes, a pursuit and tactical instructor at Coast Guard Station Key West, Florida. “We’ve told them, ‘Run your boat the way you would back home, but just tell me how you do it before you do it.’”

According to Boes, in past Tradewinds’ exercises, US service members were more adamant about the partner nations adopting their procedures, but in 2014 they altered teaching methods to provide a more collaborative learning environment, sharing examples of US techniques and allowing participants to take away tactics that would work best for them back home.

“We’re not here to teach US law or even US practices; we’re here to give [them] what works for us,” Boes said.

The third maritime training track provided an overview of maritime law enforcement, also taught by the US Coast Guard. That training provided information on conducting safety sweeps, first aid, identifying improvised explosive devices and deterring drug smuggling by calculating volumetric displacement.

Midshipman Danielle Morley, a logistics officer with the Royal Bahamas Defence Force, participated in the maritime law enforcement training. Because she works directly in a field pertaining to maritime law, she found the training completely relevant to her field.

“I really only did a maritime law workshop in my country and have done the basic midshipman boarding procedure course, so it’s just the bare minimum,” Morley said. “So this is the next step towards becoming the best.”

At the end of each training day participants had opportunities to spend their free time together. They shared stories, laughs and forged new international friendships that would be difficult to create in another environment.

“I’ll tell you what,” said Leading Seaman Nicholson. “United States of America and Canada and the partnership with the Caribbean territories, it doesn’t get better than that.”
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