Vina Del Mar, Chile - Geographically unique, Chile is more than 2,700 miles north to south yet only 150 miles east to west -- at its widest point. Chile’s military is tasked with defending more than 4,000 miles of border with the sea along South America's western coast.
With this in mind, Chilean military officials welcomed a group of American Special Operations sailors during a four-week Joint Combined Exchange Training during the month of September 2011.
This JCET was the first formal exchange between the U.S. Navy Special Boat Team trainers assigned Naval Special Warfare Unit Four, based in Virginia Beach, Va., and members from the Chilean Comando de Fuerzas Especiales, simply known as the “COMFUES.”
The primary focus of the month-long JCET for the special boat team was to improve their teaching skills and gain regional knowledge while training with members of the Chilean military, specifically its sea services, in order to enhance its military capabilities to conduct special operations. Within the Chilean military, the COMFUES is considered a top-notch element of the nation’s security forces.
However, despite its great reputation, Chilean Marine Capt. Cesar Aguirre Rivera, who serves as the chief of training for the COMFUES, said the command and its personnel always look for ways to improve their skills. This JCET is one of the ways they are doing that.
“This JCET has been a great experience for us, and we hope to continue this great communication with our U.S. partners, he said. “We have benefited from this exchange.”
The JCET is part of Special Operations Command South’s, based in Homestead, Fla., Theater Security Cooperation program. The program enables partner nations to better protect their borders and increase their capacity to conduct special operations. SOCSOUTH is responsible for all U.S. Special Operations activities in the Caribbean, Central and South America and serves as a component for U.S. Southern Command.
Throughout the JCET, members of the Special Boat Team trained with their Chilean partners on skills and tactics such as Visit, Board, Search, and Seizure, a maritime boarding action designed to capture hostile vessels and high value target they may be onboard. The U.S. Sailors also instructed members of the COMFUES on boat inserts and extraction techniques, live-fire water-board training and boat handling maneuvers on small tactical boats.
For the U.S. Sailors, this JCET is two-fold. The first is to enhance their own skills and professionalize themselves as Special Warfare Combatant-craft Crewman as well as gain regional knowledge and improve their language skills. The second is to continue and strengthen an enduring partnership with the Chilean armed forces.
“One of our goals is to enhance their maritime forces by teaching them how to operate and maintain their crafts so they can protect their borders and waterways,” said the Special Boat Operator Chief in charge of the JCET. “The great part about this JCET as compared to others I have done before is that this is more of an exchange between us as oppose to us teaching them. They are professional and there is great camaraderie between us. We are good friends.”
Members of the COMFUES have also enjoyed the benefits of this JCET and view it as a great opportunity to learn from some very experienced U.S. Special Operations Forces.
“Working with our American partners has been great because they have so much knowledge and skill,” said Chilean Marine Lt. Patricio Arriagada. “We need experience from people who have it because we are trying to be more proficient as Marines and Sailors.”
Established in 2005, the COMFUES is an operational level command comprised of 10 Special Operations Units, six Marine Commandos Regiments and four Combat Driver elements. The COMFUES’s mission is similar to its U.S. Special Operations Forces counterparts as it can perform missions such as direct action, surveillance and other tasks such as humanitarian relief.
Despite their short history as a command, the COMFUES has already participated in several high-profiled events including humanitarian relief operations in Haiti following the aftermath of the 7.0 magnitude earthquake in January 2010 and assisting their own nation just weeks later when a 8.8 magnitude earthquake occurred off its coast leaving hundreds dead and millions displaced.
The JCET ended with a closing ceremony where each Chilean participate received a certificate of training from their American counterparts and a barbeque where American and Chilean servicemembers enjoyed each other’s company over some good food and great stories of the past month of training.
“Their motivation and dedication is outstanding, and I would fight side by side with these guys any day,” said the Special Boat Operator Chief. “These guys will go far.”
Capt. Aguirre Rivera uttered those same sentiments and hopes this is just the first of many exchanges between the two nations.
“I hope our partnership will continue in the future, and we can have more exchanges,” he said. “We have mixed feelings about the end of this exchange, but we are not saying good-bye. It’s more fitting to say until next time.”