Sitting across from friends
Florida and Barbados exchange aviation practices during State Partnership meeting
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. (March 20, 2012) – An international exchange held in Northeast Florida recently could yield future benefits to the security of both the Caribbean and the U.S.
Three aviators from the Regional Security System (RSS) – an international agreement for the defense and security of the eastern Caribbean region – met with members of the Florida Air National Guard’s 125th Fighter Wing at the Jacksonville International Airport, March 13-15. The three-day informational exchange was part of Florida’s ongoing State Partnership with the RSS, and centered around repairs, upgrades and training on the RC-26 fixed wing aircraft.
The three representatives from the RSS’s Air Wing in Barbados met with their Florida National Guard counterparts to not only share “best practices” associated with the small aircraft, but to help strengthen an ongoing professional relationship.
“Having a healthy RSS Air Wing in the Caribbean provides security and stabilization for not only the American citizens who visit that area, but for the people who live there,” Air National Guard RC-26 Pilot Lt. Col. Kenneth Johnson said.
Johnson, who has been part of the Florida Air National Guard’s Counterdrug program since 2004 and was assigned to the U.S. Embassy’s military liaison office in Barbados, explained that the RSS Air Wing’s counterdrug and drug interdiction mission helps keep illegal drugs and weapons from passing through the Eastern Caribbean into the United States. He said the drug trade brings violence and regional destabilization along with it, so curtailing that trafficking is important to keeping everyone safe.
Even if the RC-26 crews meeting in Jacksonville only discuss the best ways to maintain an aircraft or the most cost-effective method to order engine parts, anything that helps the RSS’s counterdrug mission will be beneficial, Johnson said.
“If we can pass on lessons-learned from the Florida Air National Guard, hopefully we can help decrease violence in the region,” he added.
Johnson said the recent State Partnership Program (SPP) exchange aligns perfectly with the U.S. State Department’s Caribbean Basin Security Initiative to focus on citizen safety throughout the hemisphere, especially through its ability to combat narcotics trafficking.
Eastern Caribbean nations represented in the Regional Security System include: Antigua and Barbuda; Barbados; Dominica; Grenada; St. Lucia; St. Vincent and the Grenadines; and St. Kitts and Nevis. The Regional Security System is a “hybrid” organization that is comprised of both military and police personnel who remain under the command of their respective forces.
While meeting with Johnson and his team of Florida Guardsmen, Barbados’ Francis Eno said the exchange has given his crew reassurance that many of their procedures for the RC-26 are in line with what the crews from the 125th Fighter Wing are doing.
“This allows us to appreciate that our tactics and (procedures) are pretty much on par with what goes on outside of the region as far as our Air Wing is concerned,” Eno said. “And we also see it as a morale booster. Our guys look forward to these visits and see how other people operate. They realize that we are pretty much on the ball when it comes to this type of operation.”
According to Johnson the real appeal of the SPP exchanges is showing the Caribbean nations that the Florida National Guard is truly committed to the relationships, and they plan to work together into the future.
“It lets them know that not only are we partnered in word, but truly in deed as well,” Johnson said. “…When you look into their eyes and have conversations with them you really get the sense that you are sitting across from a friend. I hope that working throughout the SPP we get more opportunities for more of our Florida Guardsmen to engage and exchange with our partners in the Caribbean. They are professional, they are highly motivated, and with the kind of assistance that we can provide they can be even more capable in terms of securing the area.”