San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Joint exercise brings U.S. forces to Costa Rica

Costa Rica, a country without an army, received a firsthand view of how a modern military functions this week during the Fuerzas Aliadas Humanitarias 2009 (FAHUM 2009), a joint exercise testing natural disaster response efforts in Central America and the Caribbean.

On Tuesday, two C-17 Globemaster airplanes touched down in Juan Santamaría International Airport in Alajuela, northwest of San José, delivering medical supplies and three Blackhawk helicopters for use during the exercises. On Wednesday, the National Guard from the U.S. state of New Mexico flew the helicopters to the remote southern region of San Isidro de Dota to deliver medical supplies and treat villagers without regular access to health care.

Thursday, U.S. Ambassador to Costa Rica Peter Cianchette and senior members of the Costa Rican Cabinet flew to Quepos, on the central Pacific coast, to observe a simulated flood and mudslide exercise, said Col. Tim Paul, director of army aviation for the New Mexico National Guard. Along with a simulated influenza outbreak earlier this week, the trainings tested the preparedness and coordination of the National Emergency Commission (CNE).

The exercises began April 16, Paul said, and will last until early next week, “depending on weather and how many patients still need treatment.” U.S. forces will leave Costa Rica April 30 or May 1, Paul said, after conducting a final exercise course for a “catastrophic weather” event.

The two sides have also discussed earthquake response tactics, which have been a source of controversy for CNE since the Jan. 8 earthquake that killed 30 people in the Poás region, northwest of the capital.

According to Paul, FAHUM “is an exercise that (U.S.) Southern Command does every year, but not in every country every year.” New Mexico is a partner state of Costa Rica, he said, making the exercises “part of that bigger picture.”

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