Navy ships, Black Hawk helicopters, and more than 30 different uniform camouflage patterns are not typically everyday sights in Barbados – but for two weeks in early May this year they became fixtures of the island just the same as the colorful minibuses and flying fish ‘cutters’ are. Exercise TRADEWINDS (Ex TW), the annual U.S. Southern Command (SOUTHCOM)-led effort to help develop regional preparedness alongside Caribbean Community (CARICOM) and international partners was a smashing success in Barbados, the 2024 exercise host nation.

The Canadian Contingent to Ex TW was headed by Lieutenant Colonel Steve Hale of the 5th Canadian Division. Pulling from units coast-to-coast, the Canadian Contingent brought expertise in dive operations, medical training, Humanitarian Assistance and Disaster Response (HADR) training, command and control (C2) and the Operational Planning Process to this large scale annual regional exercise. His Majesty’s Canadian Ship Margaret Brooke, sailing in the Caribbean Sea on its Operation CARIBBE deployment, also stopped by the island for much of the exercise to work alongside ships from 8 other nations on a series of important, combined maritime skills like passing, towing, and targeting.

“This is one of the largest TRADEWINDS exercises in recent years and highlights the regional desires for a safe and resilient Caribbean. Training over 1200 personnel on an island of 280,000 that is smaller than the Gagetown training area was a challenge for all.”, said Hale of this year’s ExTW, “With this exercise being conducted just several weeks before the Men’s T20 Cricket World Cup, it has allowed many of our partner nations to leverage the various training tracks to be more prepared to provide security for the major sporting event and importantly to operate within a civilian environment committed to putting on a safe and secure World Cup”.

Across Barbados, members of the Canadian Contingent were questioned and thanked by locals and tourists alike. There is a significant Canadian community in Barbados, and vice versa, so seeing the maple leaf on the contingent members’ shoulders was always a pleasant surprise to folks on the island. While Canada isn’t a Caribbean nation by geography, it is definitely one in community. While most Canadians will go abroad and must explain their hometowns in relation to major United States cities, places like Hamilton, Abbotsford, and Fort McMurray were instantly recognizable to Bajans. “My sister lives in Markham! I have spent lots of time at Rouge Valley Park,” exclaimed Faye, one of the Barbadian Special Constables we bumped into while waiting for a helicopter extraction exercise to begin. Even thousands of kilometers away, the Canadian Contingent felt right at home.

Canada also got to flex its environmentally conscious reputation during the exercise through an important two-day initiative conducted alongside the Coral Reef Restoration Alliance (CORALL), a local non-profit organization. Canadian divers helped to train CORALL volunteer members and student divers from partner nations on debris recovery from the local artificial coral reefs, learning about coral bleaching and coral reef rehabilitation in the process. In line with Canada’s Defence Environmental Protection Policy, this work helped to emphasize the commitments that the Canadian Armed Forces has made to proper environmental stewardship throughout its operations at home and abroad; while also enhancing the skills that were trained during the exercise. Dr. Elon Cadogan of CORALL claimed that members from the Fleet Diving Unit Atlantic (FDU(A)) helped to advance CORALL’s research by months in the brief two days in which the event took place.

High Commissioner of Canada to Barbados and the Eastern Caribbean, H.E. Lilian Chatterjee joined the CAF officials at several high-level TRADEWINDS events over the duration of the exercise. High Commissioner Chatterjee was honoured to join the Canadian Contingent at a number of Canada-coordinated events, including at the CORALL press conference, a reception for security partners and government officials aboard HMCS Margaret Brooke, and an event at the Hilda Skeene Primary School where 40 crew members spent the morning refurbishing the rural school and engaging the young students — even playing a game of road tennis and learning the school song!

Exercise TRADEWINDS will take place next year with host nation Trinidad and Tobago. Canada will continue to work alongside its CARICOM friends and partners and other allies throughout the planning process with a series of training events aimed at building readiness, enhance interoperability, and contribute to developing a safer, more prepared Caribbean region for everybody. The Canadian Armed Forces is grateful to Barbados for hosting this year’s exercise on its beautiful island and in its incredible waters.

By Editor