Interoperability the key to success during Operation CARIBBE

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Article / November 23, 2016 / Project number: cjoc

By Captain Rick Donnelly, Operation CARIBBE Public Affairs Officer

The effort to keep drugs from reaching  the shores and cities of North America is a relatively unknown international operation,  but one where the Canadian Armed Forces plays a significant role. Operation CARIBBE is the Canadian contribution to Operation MARTILLO, the larger, multi-national, counter-trafficking operation which features not only military assets from Canada and the United States Coast Guard (USCG), but support from other Central and South American and European nations as well.

Since Operation CARIBBE began in 2006, the Canadian Armed Forces has provided support with both Royal Canadian Navy (RCN) ships and Royal Canadian Air Force aircraft in the Caribbean Sea and the Eastern Pacific Ocean.

There are 14 nations that support Operation MARTILLO, including Belize, Canada, Colombia, Costa Rica, El Salvador, France, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, the Netherlands, Panama, Spain, the United States and the United Kingdom. Chile has also contributed to the operation and Mexico is also engaged in a separate but similar operation.

The ability to enhance and refine interoperability between all these nations is consistently honed through a wide array of tactical exercises during the year. The results of exercising together are put to the test during tactical operations like Operation CARIBBE. Effective interoperability is critical to mission success and its importance cannot be understated.

Lieutenant-Commander Jolene Lisi, the Commanding Officer of Her Majesty’s Canadian Ship (HMCS) Brandon, one of three ships currently deployed on Operation CARIBBE (along with HMC Ships Edmonton and Kingston), summed up the importance of interoperability from her point of view on the bridge of Brandon.

“Simply put, we have to be able to work as seamlessly as possible with other agencies to achieve a common goal,” said Lieutenant-Commander Lisi. “In exercising this capability, we also learn from each other, and collectively improve our abilities to work together. Those lessons are vital.”

With over 17 years in a Navy uniform, Lieutenant-Commander Lisi has seen both the challenges and rewards of multinational operations.

“Through my career, I’ve had many opportunities to work with other navies and organizations. What has always surprised me is just how alike we are when it comes to operations,” said Lieutenant-Commander Lisi. “We face many of the same challenges, and that has always struck home with me. Our approach to solving those challenges may not always be the same, but there is an opportunity to collectively learn from that as well.”  

Like the Canadian Armed Forces, the USCG Law Enforcement Detachments (LEDETs), with members deployed on Brandon, Edmonton and Kingston, are no strangers to inter-agency operations. Their operations, with centres in both San Diego and Miami, take them around the world, and feature similar partnerships like the one they have with Canada.

According to the USCG LEDET Officer in Charge on board HMCS Brandon, the LEDET teams greatly benefit from a series of agreements not only with the Canadian Navy, but with the Dutch and British navies as well. These agreements allow the U.S. Coast Guard to extend its law enforcement authority. Being able to do their work on Canadian and other partner nations’ ships is a force multiplier.

The LEDETS enjoy a close relationship with the Royal Canadian Navy during Operation CARIBBE.

The USCG LEDET Officer in Charge noted that the Canadian Navy has been very generous with the available platforms, and having a large availability of ships, and deploying with professional mariners who speak the same nautical language, makes it very easy for them to carry out their duties.

Lieutenant-Commander Lisi echoed the USCG LEDET Officer in Charge’s sentiments regarding the relationship that the CAF and the USCG LEDET share on Operation CARIBBE.

 “Our relationship with the U.S. Coast Guard is mission critical. If we weren’t able to work with them on this mission, given the experience, tactical skill, and jurisdictional authority that they bring, there wouldn’t be much of a mission,” said Lieutenant-Commander Lisi. “We bring the platform for transportation, along with the mission ‘eyes and ears’, whereas they bring the law enforcement specialization. If we weren’t able to work together as effectively as we do, I don’t think we would be seeing the kind of success that we have in the past.”

As Operation CARIBBE enters its tenth year, interoperability and the ability to effectively communicate with the various agencies and countries involved in the big picture is once again at the forefront of operations. It is without a doubt the most critical factor in the continued success of this mission.

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