Naval Station Mayport is one of several locations around the nation that will be the host to one of the largest multinational training exercises in the world, PANAMAX 2012.

PANAMAX 2012 is focused on the defense of the Panama Canal and the Central American region by a multinational combined/joint task force. The exercise will be held at Mayport from Monday to Aug. 16.

It exercises a variety of responses to any request from the government of Panama to protect and guarantee safe passage of traffic through the Panama Canal, ensure its neutrality and respect national sovereignty.

PANAMAX 2012 happens every year and takes place in the Western Caribbean Sea and locations in the United States, including Mayport, Fort Sam Houston, Texas, Miami, Stennis, Mississippi and others.

"Really anxious to start operation, and have a lot of enthusiasm about working together with all 17 partner nations," said Admiral Lima Filho, of Brazil.

The Panama Canal is critical to the free flow of trade in the region and the entire world. The region's economy and political stability largely depend on the safe transport of several hundred million tons of cargo through the Canal each year. PANAMAX 2012 is designed to ensure plans are in place to respond to requests from the government of Panama and also Colombia for this year's iteration.

PANAMAX has evolved over many years and now includes training for the constantly evolving nature of new threats in today's security environment.

The main goal of PANAMAX is to develop and test command and control of forces at sea. Training addresses the spectrum of maritime, air, land, space, and cyber operations.

"It's key for us to be able to train together, to practice, to build up trust so that we can work more efficiently together," said Admiral Sinclair Harris, of the U.S. Navy. "The languages, I mean, we've got 17 different nations, all the different services -- Army, Air Force, Marine Corps, Special Operations -- all working together, so there's different cultures, both inside of the military and between nations that have to come together."

The representatives who will be in Mayport for nearly two weeks will be from Belize, Brazil, Canada, Chile, Colombia, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, El Salvador, France, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico, Nicaragua, Panama, Paraguay, Peru and the U.S.

PANAMAX began in 2003 with three countries: Panama, Chile and the U.S. Exercise participation has greatly expanded every year since. In 2004, nine nations took part; in 2005, 15 nations were involved; in 2006, 18 nations participated; in 2007, 19 nations took part, and last year 20 nations were a part of it.