Panama Canal Invaded! Yet again.

No it’s not delegations of US Congress members … that happens later, when it is cold and snowy in most of their districts.  But this time the invasion is by a coalition of 20 different countries, all sending their military to participate in Excercise PANAMAX which began yesterday.   Although some past PANAMAX operations have actually been conducted in Panama, this year’s is taking place in the Florida, probably because most people don’t want to be in Florida in August.  And maybe because it’s more important in today’s military planning sessions to have a computer rather than a gun.

Under the first Carter-Torrijos Treaty the US returned the US Canal Zone and the Panama Canal to Panama.  Under the second Treaty the US agreed to protect the neutrality of the Panama Canal in perpetuity.  And since Panama abolished its military after Noriega and the US Invasion, guess what?

PANAMAX is a preemptive effort to respond to any request from the government of Panama to protect and guarantee safe passage of traffic through the Panama Canal, ensure its neutrality and respect national sovereignty.

U.S. Naval Forces Southern Command/U.S. 4th Fleet (USNAVSO/FOURTHFLT) kicks off this year’s the annual PANAMAX Military Exercise (PANAMAX), hosting more than 320 U.S. and partner nation participating in the exercise from Jul. 25 – Aug. 4.

Since its inception in 2003, PANAMAX has become one of the largest multinational training exercises in the world. The exercise is focused on ensuring the defense of the Panama Canal, one of the most strategically and economically crucial pieces of infrastructure in the world.

This year’s exercise will include participation from Argentina, Belize, Brazil, Canada, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, the Dominican Republic, El Salvador, France, Guatemala, Honduras, Jamaica, Mexico, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, United Kingdom, Uruguay, and the United States.

“The priority during PANAMAX will be given to the interoperability at higher levels of coalition command and control involving 19 partner nations,” said Deputy Commander, U.S. Naval Forces Southern Command/U.S. 4th Fleet Rear Adm. Robert L. Greene. “But more importantly this exercise provides a greater opportunity to learn different perspectives and approaches when solving problems that surface throughout the exercise. Being able to bridge the gap between strategic objectives and tactical execution is critical to success, and this exercise will enable the whole process to come to fruition.”

Greene is the Deputy Commander for the Combined Force Maritime Component (CFMCC) of PANAMX ’16, led this year by Rear Adm. Alberto Alcala of Peru.

Planning for PANAMAX began in Oct. 2015. For over nine months U.S. and partner nation militaries have worked to synchronize their efforts in the coordination of over 1,000 personnel from all participating countries.

“It has been a constant refinement,” said Cmdr. Dan Hannum, PANAMAX lead planner. “Getting the right people in the right places is so important. We conduct exercises like this to increase our interoperability with our partner nations in the event of a real world catastrophe. Through these exercises the infrastructure is already set up so all we would have to do is plug and play.”

PANAMAX 2016 will be conducted as a Command Post exercise (no actual forces), with CFMCC staff comprised of 270 personnel (including 80 Partner Nationals) hosted by USNAVSO in Mayport.

The exercise develops and sustains relationships that improve the capacity of our emerging and enduring partners’ security forces to achieve common desired goals, while fostering friendly cooperation and understanding among participating forces.

“There is no greater reward than to build close working relations with partner nations,” said Greene. “Creating a cohesive bond that endures throughout times of crisis, developing a culture of resiliency within each nation in an era where violent extremism is prevalent throughout the globe, and having no boundaries will ensure regional stability in the long term. Exercises such as PANAMAX and UNITAS set the stage for strengthening these partnerships, bringing unity of effort as we strive together to counter the terrorist threat.”

U.S. Naval Forces Southern Command and U.S. 4th Fleet supports U.S. Southern Command’s joint and combined military operations by employing maritime forces in cooperative maritime security operations in order to maintain access, enhance interoperability, and build enduring partnerships in order to enhance regional security and promote peace, stability, and prosperity in the Caribbean, Central and South American regions

And need we add, this is also an opportunity to showcase various US military hardware to participating countries. And yes, guys with order books are standing by.