By Julieta Pelcastre/Diálogo
February 14, 2022
United States Southern Command’s (SOUTHCOM) Joint Task Force Bravo (JTF-Bravo) conducted the humanitarian assistance and disaster relief exercise Keel-billed Toucan (KBT) to ensure maximum preparedness for disasters, in Ladyville, Belize, from January 7-18, 2022, the U.S. Embassy in Belize said in a statement.
Some 150 JTF-Bravo service members and US Army helicopters were deployed from Soto Cano Air Base, Honduras, to Price Barracks in Ladyville to conduct the exercise, the US Embassy added. .
During the exercise, JTF-Bravo strengthened its capabilities to quickly and safely mobilize personnel, resources and supplies, while following strict COVID-19 protocols, the force said in a statement. Participating units also conducted Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape (SERE) training exercises in the jungle.
Additionally, JTF-Bravo physicians, in coordination with the Belize Ministry of Health and Welfare, provided primary care, preventive medicine, dentistry, and pharmacy services to more than 775 Jalacte residents. and San Pedro Columbia, the US Embassy said.
“Throughout the exercise, JTF-Bravo and the Armed Forces Battalion worked hand-in-hand to ensure an effective representation of a real-world [humanitarian and disaster relief] operation,” said U.S. Army Lt. Col. Micah Baker, commander of the armed forces battalion.
Belize is extremely vulnerable to climatic hazards, which directly threaten coastal populations, where more than 50% of the population lives, the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) said on its website.
In 2020, hurricanes Nana, Eta and Iota hit Belize. “Those [hurricanes] caused unprecedented flooding, affecting more than 30,000 people and losses estimated at $80 million,” UNICEF said in early 2022.
In 1998, Hurricane Mitch devastated over 40% of Central America (including Belize), leaving some 11,000 dead and over 3.3 million homeless in the region. JTF-Bravo has provided disaster relief to the region, playing a vital role in search and rescue efforts and delivering thousands of tons of food, medical supplies and water.
More than two decades later, JTF-Bravo remains ready to respond should the need arise, thanks to its unique airlift capabilities. “Joint Task Force Bravo is uniquely positioned and highly capable of providing rapid and effective assistance throughout the region should the need arise,” said U.S. Army Col. Steven Gventer, commander of JTF-Bravo.
Belize and the United States also maintain an ongoing partnership, working to strengthen regional security. On January 24, 2022, the U.S. government donated four high-performance vehicles to the Belize Joint Intelligence Operations Center (JIOC).
“The donation represents another milestone in the long and successful relationship between Belize and the United States. […]. The new fleet of vehicles will improve our […] team’s ability to combat transnational organized crime,” said JIOC Director Lieutenant Commander Freddie Ku.