By Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Desmond Parks, Navy Public Affairs Support Element July 01, 2016 Leadership aboard Harpers Ferry-class dock landing ship USS Oak Hill (LSD 51), alongside Commander, United States Southern Command Adm. Kurt Tidd and U.S. ambassador to Panama John D. Feeley, hosted a Panama Canal Expansion ceremony while in port Balboa, Panama, June 25. The ceremony marked the opening of a $5.4 billion expansion of the Panama Canal that spanned over the course of a decade, allowing larger ships to pass through the canal and significantly improve long-term global trade. “The Panama Canal is the most important economic feature of this region,” said Adm. Tidd. “It connects the economic livelihood of nations all around the world.” In preparation for the expansion, ports on the East Coast of the U.S. and in the Gulf of Mexico have invested over $30 billion in deepening channels and building new loading docks to prepare for greater traffic and increased trade, according to the American Association of Port Authorities. Although there isn’t an expectation for immediate improvement in global trade, the expansion is expected to directly benefit both security and trade within the region. In addition to guest speakers, Adm. Tidd and Ambassador Feeley, U.S. Second Lady Dr. Jill Biden also attended the ceremony and met with Sailors, Marines, Soldiers and U.S. embassy officials to celebrate the Panama Canal expansion. “Oak Hill is extremely proud to be able to participate in this historic event,” said Cmdr. Orlando Bowman, commanding officer aboard Oak Hill. “The ability to represent the U.S., as well as continuing to strengthen our partnership with Panama is an incredible experience for the crew.” “U.S. Southern Command is the organizer for one of the largest multinational exercises involving over 21 nations this year engaged in the security of the Panama Canal,” said Adm. Tidd. “All of the countries of the region and beyond have a shared responsibility working hand-in-hand with the government of Panama to secure this important economic item.” PANAMAX brings together partner nations to participate in training scenarios from various U.S. locations to increase interoperability among participating nations. The main focus of the exercise is to guarantee safe passage through the Panama Canal, ensure Panama’s neutrality and respect its sovereignty. For more information, visit www.navy.mil, www.facebook.com/usnavy, or www.twitter.com/usnavy. For more news from U.S. Naval Forces Southern Command & U.S. 4th Fleet, visit http://www.navy.mil/local/cusns/.