By U.S. Naval Forces Southern Command/U.S. 4th Fleet July 22, 2020 U.S. Naval Forces Southern Command/U.S. 4th Fleet and Ecuadorean maritime planners held a virtual Initial Planning Conference (IPC) July 14-17 in support of the upcoming UNITAS LXI exercise, which will occur in November in Ecuador.Rear Admiral Daniel Ginéz, Ecuadorean Navy Fleet commander, kicked off the planning conference along with his counterpart, Rear Admiral Don Gabrielson, commander, U.S. Naval Forces Southern Command/U.S. 4th Fleet.“This team has an important mission. We are an example to our countries and the world of what cooperation means,” said Rear Adm. Gabrielson. “We are the unstoppable force and will come together to succeed even under difficult conditions.”Over 70 planners from Argentina, Brazil, Colombia, Costa Rica, Jamaica, and Peru joined representatives from the U.S. Navy, U.S. Marine Corps, U.S. Coast Guard, and U.S. Army in conducting a series of virtual meetings to refine the UNITAS LXI concept of operations, schedule of events, and assigned roles and responsibilities. All participating navies will virtually sign a memorandum to continue detailed planning and signifying the intent to participate in this year’s exercise.The U.S. and Ecuadorean navies set the stage for a successful IPC and future engagements with a passing exercise (PASSEX) with the Ecuadorean Navy designed to strengthen maritime partnerships, July 11.Sailors assigned to the USS Halsey (DDG 97) conducted the PASSEX with Ecuadorean warships BAE Manabi (CM-12) and BAE Loja (CM-16). The bilateral PASSEX, planned and executed in the COVID-19 environment, strengthened tactical readiness and practices operational command and control while signaling strategic commitments to our partners throughout the region.“This conference and the signing of the memorandum marked the beginning of the deliberate planning for UNITAS LXI. Sixty-one years of friendship, partnership, and trust cannot be overlooked. As we continue adapting to our changing world, UNITAS presents a great opportunity for participating navies to share ideas, enhance interoperability, and further strengthen relationships between our navies,” said Rear Adm. Gabrielson.UNITAS, Latin for “unity,” is the longest-running, multi-national maritime exercise in the world. Conceived in 1959, UNITAS I took place in 1960. UNITAS LXI will focus on interoperability at sea with warfighting exercises, to include live-fire events that work up to a multi-day scenario phase where participating forces come together to operate as a multi-national force.U.S. Naval Forces Southern Command/U.S. 4th Fleet supports U.S. Southern Command’s joint and combined military operations by employing maritime forces in cooperative maritime security operations to maintain access, enhance interoperability, and build enduring partnerships in order to enhance regional security and promote peace, stability, and prosperity in the Caribbean, Central and South American region.