Written by Petty Officer 1st Class Melissa Leake
The boat cuts through the dark Caribbean waters with three suspected narco-terrorists and millions of dollars worth of illicit contraband aboard, heading toward American shores.
The helmsman pilots the vessel using GPS toward the next supply tanker, while its two crewman keep a lookout for any signs of law enforcement. They’re familiar with the route because they’ve made this trip many times before.
Overhead, lost against the dark canopy of the night sky, a U.S. Coast Guard C-130 Hercules aircraft has marked their position. Within moments coordinates are sent to the operations center, who then shares this information with a nearby Bahamian 33-foot boat. The lookouts aboard the drug-smuggling craft don’t see the incoming Royal Bahamas Defence Force watercraft hounding their course until it’s too late. Still circling overhead, the C-130 captures footage of the drug-runners throwing bales of cocaine overboard, as the Bahamians close in. Although they have made this trip before, they won’t make it again.
This is one of many different real-world scenarios the 2016 Tradewinds exercise is designed for – helping nations become better equipped when responding to natural disasters and land and maritime threats, including illicit trafficking.
“Tradewinds allows maritime security forces to conduct subject matter expertise and best practice exchanges,” said Dan Gray, the program manager for Tradewinds 2016 and a Coast Guard civilian employee at Coast Guard Atlantic Area. “Everyone understands we are more effective as a cooperative team than as individual nations.”
Tradewinds has been identified in the Coast Guard commandant’s Western Hemisphere Strategy as a crucial cornerstone to the fight against countering transnational organized crime in the Caribbean region, specifically smuggling illicit drugs, people and weapons.
“It’s clear Tradewinds is an important exercise because transnational organized crime is a big problem in the U.S. and in the Caribbean region,” said Gray, a recently retired Coast Guard member who has participated in multiple Tradewinds evolutions. “We understand that once we train together, once we learn together and once we come together, we can combat this problem more effectively.”
For some Coast Guard members this is their first time participating in the U.S. Southern Command-led exercise, which includes military and security personnel from 13 Caribbean Community member states.
“This is my first Tradewinds [exercise] and my favorite part is the idea and best practice sharing between nations,” said Petty Officer 1st Class Matthew Matheson, a maritime enforcement specialist and “A” school instructor at the Maritime Law Enforcement Academy in Charleston, South Carolina. “It’s taken me back to my [Tactical Law Enforcement Team] days where we’d train partner nations, but this is more structured and seeing everyone come together is awesome! Law enforcement already has a particular bond that binds us together, and Tradewinds allows that bond to transcend borders and share our different ideas, techniques, and procedures with each other.”
Matheson was part of the maritime law enforcement track which focused on boarding procedures, use of force techniques, and tactical procedures. Their goal was to conduct day and nighttime boardings and search operations in a natural environment.
“In the real world you don’t have the luxury to know how the outcome of the boarding will go, and not knowing what to do in certain situations can have grievous errors,” said Matheson, who instructed partner nation students during the exercise. “But in the training atmosphere here, you are able to push the student’s experience by putting them into scenarios where it’s alright if you don’t know what to do. It exposes everyone to all types of situations to be able to formulate a plan to execute real world.”
This year’s exercise will be conducted in three phases. Phase I, which was hosted by Grenada June 4-14, consisted of classroom instruction, practical application and underway drills. Phase II will include maritime and land operations in Jamaica June 20-28, and Phase III will include a ‘Key Leader Seminar,’ held July 20-22 in Miami for key stakeholders and decision makers from the region.
“Tradewinds has been going on for more than 30 years, and for me, it was great to come here, gain experience and learn from partner nations,” said Matheson. “Building these types of relationships while exchanging best practices and policies is crucial to stopping threats plaguing the maritime environment.”
Tradewinds 2016 included military and security personnel from 13 Caribbean Community member states, Antigua and Barbuda, Bahamas, Barbados, Belize, Dominica, Grenada, Guyana, Haiti, Jamaica, St. Kitts and Nevis, Suriname, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, Trinidad and Tobago. Military personnel from the United States, Canada, France, and the United Kingdom joined the member states for Phase I of Tradewinds 2016.