For the past 15 years, small groups of special operations troops from the United States and Latin America have met each year for a tactical competition while their senior leaders traded lessons learned and developed better ways to provide security, counter narcotics trafficking and handle disaster response across U.S. Special Operations Command-South.

Military Times spoke recently with the U.S. director of the Fuerzas Comando competition about what the event provides in tactical, operational and strategic interests.

U.S. Army Lt. Col. Kevin Key is the exercise director. This was his first year overseeing the event, which wrapped up in late June but he has spent a decade on Army special operations assignments, predominantly serving with 7th Special Forces Group, which has a geographic focus on South and Central America.

Though Key is with the Army, the exercise is service agnostic and past directors have included representatives from other branches with a SOF background or focus.

“Prior to 2004 there had been some localized competition, focused on crisis response forces in Central America and the Caribbean,” Key said. “(Special Operations Command South) looked at the regional commitment to the entire (area of operations) and invited all focused partners from the entire region.”

Through the competition and senior leader meetings, Key said, dialogue has continued and improved, helping bring light to regional security concerns.

And that original crisis response focus has expanded to areas such as counter-narcotics trafficking and illegal alien concerns.

Most of the past senior leader meetings have focused on just that, senior leaders primarily O6 and above.

But, Key said, this year there’s a focus on helping partner nations establish professional non-commissioned officer corps.

The competition portion is distinctly tactical, with a lot of shooting competitions, sniper competitions firing under stressful conditions and combined assaults and hostage rescue scenarios.

But this year’s, hosted by Chile, included a new event that focused on special operations forces skill sets.

Competitors were dropped off the coast in the Pacific Ocean in 54-degree water and had to swim to rubber Zodiac boats, do a cross ocean movement and then commando swim to the beach, Key said.

And that was just the water portion.

Once on land they had to do a 6km timed ruck march, then competitive pistol shoot and other standard SOF skills.

The event began in 2004 with 15 countries and competition in El Salvador and has grown to 19 countries participating in the most recent iteration.

The competition rotates among partner nations in SOUTHCOM, said Maj. Cesar Santiago, SOC South spokesman. And it’s not only Latin American and the United States. Canada is doing partner nation building with Belize and has participated in the senior leader seminar, Key said.

Here are rankings of the SOF teams that participated:

1 Colombia 2,850 points

2 Chile 2,765 points

3 Ecuador 2,750 points

4 Panama 2,655 points

5 Honduras 2,515 points

6 United States 2,500 points

7 El Salvador 2,425 points

8 Jamaica 2,420 points

9 Brazil 2,360 points

10 Costa Rica 2,205 points

11 Guatemala 2,140 points

11 Dominican Republic 2,140 points

13 Argentina 2,135 points

14 Peru 2,100 points

15 Uruguay 2,060 points

16 Paraguay 2,020 points

17 Haiti 1,950 points

18 Trinidad and Tobago 1,930 points

18 Belize 1,930 points

Source: U.S. Special Operations Command-South

Todd South has written about crime, courts, government and the military for multiple publications since 2004 and was named a 2014 Pulitzer finalist for a co-written project on witness intimidation. Todd is a Marine veteran of the Iraq War.

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