In late January 2020, upon bidding farewell to faculty and students of the Brazilian Air Force Academy, where he acted as commandant, Major General David Almeida Alcoforado knew that it also meant saying goodbye to his country, as he was about to assume the role of deputy director of Strategy, Policy, and Plans (J5) at U.S. Southern Command (SOUTHCOM).
Maj. Gen. David also knew that he would actively participate in developing initiatives in the air, space, land, sea, and cyber domains, as well as other activities associated with his new role.
What the Brazilian Air Force general officer didn’t know was that he would have to not only face SOUTHCOM’s traditional challenges, such as combating transnational narcotrafficking networks, but also the COVID-19 pandemic.
Diálogo spoke with Maj. Gen. David, who is now fully back working at SOUTHCOM.
Diálogo: As soon as you assumed your new role, the coronavirus pandemic broke out. How did this affect your mission at SOUTHCOM?
Brazilian Air Force Major General David Almeida Alcoforado, J5 deputy director: Although it has affected my initial integration into the command’s routine and, consequently, caused the cancellation of various scheduled activities, it also presented an opportunity for me to learn important lessons on leadership, crisis management, rapid transition into the virtual world, operational planning for the force, and support for partner nations, and, above all, to observe the fulfillment of missions in adverse environments, such as the one generated by this pandemic.
Diálogo: The fact that SOUTHCOM appointed a general officer from a partner nation’s air force as deputy director of one of its directorates says a lot about the joint work between partner nations and the United States. How is this relevant?
Maj. Gen. David: I see this as a natural evolution of a solid strategic partnership dating back to World War II, when we fought side-by-side in the European theater of operations. It demonstrates mutual trust, the desire to expand military cooperation to promote stability, prosperity, and social peace in the Western Hemisphere, a scenario dominated by nations that share the same democratic ideals and values, but with significant common challenges, which can only be overcome with strong regional integration.
Diálogo: What is the Brazilian Ministry of Defense’s position on this appointment?
Maj. Gen. David: In order to fulfill its duties, the Ministry of Defense, through the Armed Forces Joint Chiefs of Staff, seeks to gradually increase mutual trust and interaction among partner nations’ armed forces, by establishing a series of measures to achieve this goal, such as international agreements; participation in high-level meetings; coordination or participation in combined exercises, courses, and exchanges, among other measures. In this sense, the agreement between the governments of the United States and Brazil to appoint a Brazilian general officer to assume a role within SOUTHCOM is aligned with the aspiration for stronger partnerships with partner nations, seeking greater efficiency to combat common threats in our geostrategic environment.
Diálogo: What does this mean for the relationship between the Brazilian Armed Forces and the U.S. military?
Maj. Gen. David: The recent designation of Brazil as a Major Non-NATO Ally created an opportunity to expand military cooperation between these two allied nations. This trust was achieved after years of joint work alongside other relevant partners. In addition to strengthening the partnership, it makes it possible to expand cooperation in numerous fields, such as operations to combat transnational threats, and humanitarian support for disasters or major catastrophes that affect our hemisphere each year. I would like to point out that during the 2010 earthquake in Haiti, which was such a sad incident, the United States and Brazil worked jointly with other nations to provide humanitarian aid to that country with an unprecedented contingent, not seen since World War II.
Diálogo: Do you think that this experience can be repeated in other countries?
Maj. Gen. David: Southern Command prioritizes strong partnerships as part of its strategic objectives. Currently, there are eight nations represented at SOUTHCOM. I believe that in the future, such cooperation could be expanded to increase the efficiency and coordination between partner nations to combat common threats in our hemisphere.
Diálogo: How do you intend to leverage your experience in the Brazilian Air Force to carry out your new role at SOUTHCOM?
Maj. Gen. David: In my 30 plus years of experience, I have had many opportunities to take on command and leadership roles. Additionally, I have a solid education and experience in national and multinational operations and exercises. Brazilian general officers who may be assigned to relevant roles have a lot to contribute to Southern Command’s mission, acting according to the common interests previously established by the competent authorities, through cooperation agreements signed by both countries.
Diálogo: Why is it important for Brazil to have a general officer assume command functions at SOUTHCOM?
Maj. Gen. David: By having the opportunity to be part of the leadership structure of such an important command in the United States, whose operations encompass a large part of Brazil’s strategic environment, we seek to increase efficiency in terms of military cooperation to manage important programs, such as International Military Education and Training, Foreign Military Sales, Professional Military Education, military exchanges, in addition to the planning and execution of combined exercises that are very relevant to Brazil, such as UNITAS, PANAMAX, and others. All this leads to building or enhancing military capabilities and interagency coordination to better fight transnational threats, promote capacity building with partner nations and combined operations in the event of disasters caused by both human action and nature itself.
Diálogo: What is your greatest challenge to fulfilling that mission?
Maj. Gen. David: Currently, the main obstacle is the pandemic. It affects society as a whole and stresses its main structures. On the other hand, I am impressed by the agility of the command’s response to ensure that the mission is fulfilled.
Diálogo: What is the main lesson learned that you hope to take back to Brazil?
Maj. Gen. David: As mentioned previously, due to the circumstances, the main lesson learned may be how to react to major crises, such as COVID-19. I will certainly acquire extraordinary knowledge that will be very useful for strengthening our partnership, increasing the efficiency of cooperation programs, and combating common threats in our hemisphere.