By Rear Admiral George Ballance
Commander, U.S. Naval Forces Southern Command/ Commander, U.S. 4th Fleet
Buenos Dias Families, Friends and Shipmates. I am excited to be here in Chile as the Pacific portion of the annual multinational exercise UNITAS begins! 2015 marks our 56th year doing the UNITAS exercise, and this year will be especially eventful as we welcome USS George Washington (CVN 73) and Carrier Strike Group NINE (CSG 9) to the 4th Fleet Area of Operations as they participate in UNITAS as part of the Southern Seas 2015 deployment.
The Caribbean, Central America, South America and the United States share many common interests and security concerns. Our economies, lives and mutual interests are intertwined now more than ever before. Regional challenges require cooperative solutions, and UNITAS is a prime example of how many nations can join together in order to counter maritime activities that could potentially threaten the stability of our entire region.
Southern Seas and UNITAS 2015 are all about building relationships. We are working with our regional Partner Nations to enhance interoperability through a variety of training opportunities at sea and Theater Security Cooperation activities ashore. The bottom line is that we need to be able to work alongside the military components of other nations, whether in our efforts to rebuild following a natural disaster or in the battles we fight every day to protect our country and its citizens from illicit trafficking and terrorism. These are enormous challenges facing not just the United States, but our Partner Nations as well. It is only through open communication and sharing professional expertise with our regional partners’ military, civilian and maritime services that we can develop the relationships we need in the event of a crisis requiring a multinational effort.
UNITAS 2015 is being conducted in two phases. Chile is hosting the Pacific phase of UNITAS. This year’s UNITAS PAC exercise includes participation from eleven countries: Australia, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, El Salvador, Guatemala, Mexico, New Zealand, Panama, South Africa, and United States. Brazil will host the Atlantic phase of UNITAS in November. This year’s LANT phase of the exercise includes participation from nine countries: Brazil, Cameroon, Chile, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico, Peru, Senegal and the U.S.
Southern Seas is a wide-reaching deployment. In addition to UNITAS, planned engagements include port visits with Peru, Chile and Brazil; VIP/Distinguished Visitor embark engagements with Panama, Peru, Colombia, Chile, Brazil, Paraguay, and Uruguay; and bilateral at-sea operations with Japan, Peru, Chile and Brazil. Many of these engagements have already occurred, and so far we are enjoying great success. For example, in a recent photo exercise off the coast of Peru, aircraft assigned to Carrier Air Wing 2 flew in formation alongside a Peruvian Air Force MIG-29 and Mirage 2000! Such opportunities to work this closely with our Partner Nations are rare but exceptionally valuable.
Port visits give our Sailors the opportunity to experience the cultures of some of the nations they have been working alongside at sea. In their liberty time, I urge Sailors to sample the national cuisine, interact with some of the local people, and develop a deeper appreciation for the unique places they will have the opportunity to visit. I encourage all Sailors taking part in this exercise to take full advantage of the opportunities presented – our Morale, Welfare, and Recreation teams have put together fantastic tourist opportunities you will not want to miss, and ones I’m sure they will never forget!
Distinguished Visitor embarks, likewise, introduce senior-ranking members, and occasionally more junior officers, from the nations we visit to our Navy and our Sailors. Because we have an aircraft carrier and air wing with us this year – an occurrence which certainly does not happen often – we have the very special opportunity to show off our abilities to land jet aircraft while at sea to those who are currently involved in top-level decision making as well as those who will someday inherit this responsibility. And because this ship is essentially a floating city, this is an amazing opportunity to share what a day-in-the-life for our Sailors looks like!
UNITAS and the entire Southern Seas deployment provide a great opportunity for the United States Navy to foster and develop relationships with our neighbors to the South that make our country stronger and more secure. As with any deployment, continued support from the home front is appreciated. Family and friends back home help our Sailors keep our ships afloat, our airplanes flying and landing safely, and their moral high. Our Sailors represent the best of our nation and I appreciate all of their efforts to ensure Southern Seas and UNITAS 2015 are a tremendous success!