Twenty-one judge advocates from four nations assembled at Naval Station Mayport, in late July for a two week Command Post exercise, PANAMAX 2016
. PANAMAX is one of the largest multinational military exercises in the world. The annual U.S. Southern Command (USSOUTHCOM)-sponsored exercise focuses on ensuring the defense of the Panama Canal against attack from a fictional sophisticated violent extremist organization operating in Central America and the Caribbean.
The exercise scenario features operations in the sea, air, land, and cyberspace domains in order to challenge the capabilities of USSOUTHCOM, its components, and participating partner nation defense forces. PANAMAX is designed to test the ability of a multinational force to defend the Panama Canal while operating under a United Nations Security Council Resolution. The Combined Forces Maritime Component Commander (CFMCC) was hosted by U.S. Naval Forces Southern Command. The CFMCC staff included 350 personnel representing 19 partner nations from the Americas and Europe. Participants gathered to develop relationships and to improve capabilities for planning and executing complex, multinational operations.
Supporting the CFMCC were Cmdr. James Hoffman and Lt. Elan Ghazal of U.S. Naval Forces Southern Command/U.S. FOURTH Fleet. They were joined by partner nation judge advocates Capitán de Fragata Maria Suarez of Colombia, Capitán de Corbeta Jose Otiniano of Peru, Capitán de Corbeta Nicolas Gatica of Chile, and U.S. judge advocates: Lt. David Welch (Naval Submarine Support Center Kings Bay), Lt. Medardo Martin (RLSO SE), Lt. Malachy Soller (RLSO SE), Lt. Martin Bunt (RLSO SE), Lt. Jason Bentley (RLSO SE), Lt. j.g. Christina Sorgi (RLSO SE), Lt. j.g. Molly Altes (RLSO SE), Lt. j.g. Bobby Walsh (RLSO SE), Lt. j.g. Clifton Morgan (RLSO SE), Lt. j.g. Blake Royall (RLSO SE), Lt j.g. John Kelley (RLSO SE), and Lt. j.g. Landry Redding (RLSO SE), and Lt. Justin Collins, Lt. Philip Johnston, Lt. Blair Kuplic of Defense Service Office (DSO) Southeast.
Judge advocates supported the CFMCC Battle Watch Captain on the Watch Floor by monitoring chat boxes, e-mail, and the PANAMAX web portal to maintain situational awareness, issue spot, and advise the line staff on international and operational legal considerations. Judge advocates also participated in boards, bureaus, centers, cells and working groups (B2C2WG) advising on targeting, maritime operations, intelligence collection, and information operations. Participating judge advocates had many discussions focused on the implementation of multinational rules of engagement (ROE) and the significance of national caveats, national versus multinational tasking, customary international law, and the scope of operations permitted by the United Nations Security Council Resolution and Troop Contributing Countries Memorandum of Agreement.
Additionally, U.S. Naval Forces Southern Command sent three Navy judge advocates, Lt. Cmdr. Billy Holt (RLSO SE), Lt. Tom Bright (RLSO SE), and Lt. Leigha Groves (CNP/N1), to San Antonio, Texas to support U.S. Army South, which oversaw the joint headquarters known as Multinational Forces South (MNFS). MNFS operated out of a tent compound constructed at Fort Sam Houston, which attempted to simulate the conditions of a tactical operations center on foreign soil. MNFS was further supported by a combination of Army, Air Force, and partner nation judge advocates including members from Peru and Columbia. Holt and Bright reported directly to the MNFS SJA. They represented the SJA Office in B2C2WG for information capabilities, targeting, the SOUTHCOM SJA update, and the SOUTHCOM ROE Working Gropu.
In supporting MNFS, Holt and Bright were critical in defining and pushing (ROE) to the CFMCC, Combined Forces Land Component Command (CFLCC), and Combined Forces Special Operations Component Command (CFSOCC) and formulating strategies to address detained enemy soldier operations and jurisdictional law questions. Groves embedded with the MNFS J9 (Civil Affairs) directorate. While working in the J9, Groves advised on permissible sources of funding for civil-military operations, claims issues in a joint operating environment, and the international authorities governing internally displaced people and humanitarian assistance/disaster relief efforts.
The multinational aspect of the exercise allowed for education and discussion on the role of an operational legal advisor in various countries. PANAMAX 2016 provided valuable opportunities for the group of mostly first-tour judge advocates to get their first experience working hand-in-hand with the fleet, integrating with a combined staff, and engaging with partner nation judge advocates.