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Colombian AF general commands air component during joint exercise

Colombian Air Force Brig. Gen. Sergio Andrés Garzón Vélez, Combined Forces Air Component Commander for PANAMAX 16, and his aid Lt. Col. Ricardo, receive an update during a commander’s update briefing at Davis-Monthan AFB, Ariz., July 31, 2016.  PANAMAX is an annual exercise sponsored by U.S. Southern Command that increases the ability of nations to work together, enable assembled forces to organize as a multinational task force and test their responsiveness in combined operations. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Heather R. Redman)

Colombian Air Force Brig. Gen. Sergio Andrés Garzón Vélez, center, the Combined Forces Air Component commander for exercise Panamax 16, and his aide receive an update during a commander’s update briefing at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, Ariz., July 31, 2016. Panamax is an annual exercise sponsored by U.S. Southern Command that increases the ability of nations to work together and test their responsiveness in combined operations. (U.S. Air Force photo/Tech. Sgt. Heather R. Redman)

DAVIS-MONTHAN AIR FORCE BASE, Ariz. (AFNS) -- For the first time, a Colombian general led the simulated air war during U.S. Southern Command’s annual Panamax exercise from July 29-Aug. 4 at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base.

Colombian Air Force Brig. Gen. Sergio Andrés Garzón Vélez acted as the Combined Forces Air Component commander for the fictitious Multi-National Forces-South during SOUTHCOM’s largest annual exercise.

“My takeaway from this exercise is confidence,” Garzón said. “Confidence to share information, to share some ideas during operational execution.”

The scenario of Panamax involved a multi-national force involving 19 nations ranging from Canada to Chile to support the fictitious country of “New Centralia” against a guerilla force, which not only threatens that nation’s security but also the security of the Panama Canal.

“If we respond to something around the world in our area of cooperation, if we have partner nations who are able to command and control, it really enables our operation to go further,” said Lt. Gen. Chris Nowland, the 12th Air Force (Air Forces Southern) commander.

The role of the air component commander is to act as a subordinate commander to the multi-national forces commander, providing airpower into the theater of operations, according to Brig. Gen. Donald Lindberg, the mobilization assistant to the 12th Air Force (AFSOUTH) commander. He was paired with Garzón not only during Panamax, but also during exercise Key Resolve in South Korea earlier this year.

While the air component operates from Davis-Monthan AFB, other components operated from multiple locations around the U.S. as well as in Santiago, Chile.

Working with partner nations during exercises, such as Panamax, provides connective tissue between different countries, which can help streamline processes for the future if there is ever a mission where a coalition may be involved.

“It goes back to the partner nation concept,” Lindberg said. “Partner doesn’t mean that the U.S. does everything. We partner with them and they have the opportunity here to get out in front, and have command and control of partner nation air forces.”

More than 35 partner air force officers from about a dozen Western Hemisphere countries participated in the air portion of the exercise, and helped solidify the relationships and bonds which the Airmen of AFSOUTH strive to maintain throughout the year.

“We have demonstrated unity of effort,” Garzón said. “If we are ever called upon, we can work together to accomplish the mission.”

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