Colombian Sergeant Majors Exchange Experiences with U.S. Counterparts

By Dialogo
June 06, 2016

According to Wikipedia, “sub-officer,” the literal translation for “non-commissioned officer” in Spanish, is the term employed by the Armed Forces of Latin America to describe the military category held by intermediate commands between officers and troops. However, there is much more between officers and troops than what one would think. To begin with, each country has a different set of ranks: for example, officers within the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), are labeled the same way as in the United States: Non-Commisioned Officers or NCO.

The subject is a bit complicated, even for those who have been involved in NCO development for many years, and that is one of the reasons why groups of Colombian Sergeant Majors have visited the United States to learn more about this initiative for the past three years.

"I am here in order to learn a lot and return to Colombia with this knowledge. It is a very interesting and important program for us," said Battalion Sergeant Major Carlos Julio Alfonso Torres, who is currently in the Fifth Comprehensive Program for High-Ranking Non-Commissioned Officers of the Military Forces of Colombia.

This year, the exchange between Colombian and U.S. personnel took place in Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, from May 15th-26th. For 11 days, U.S. Southern Command (SOUTHCOM), U.S. Air Forces South, and U.S. Marine Corps Forces South gave and listened to presentations about their specific NCO Corps. Additionally, the group of Colombian NCOs visited various military facilities, among them the World War II Museum and Memorial, the Command Training School, the U.S. Army Command and General Staff College, as well as other organizations of the Combined Arms Center (CAC)/Fort Leavenworth that support education and training.

Desired Results

In previous geostrategic visits, groups of Colombian Sergeant Majors visited the Sergeant Major Non-Commissioned Officer Academy in Fort Benning, Georgia, and Fort Bliss, Texas. They also visited Fort Sam Houston, Texas to become familiarized with the U.S. Army’s strategic commands, and Florida, where the 7th Special Forces Group is based.

On that occasion, the desired results of the Colombian Sergeant Majors' planned visit to Ft. Leavenworthincluded improving the Colombian Military Forces’ Senior Non-Commissioned Officer (NCO) development program by promoting discussions and exchanging ideas on how to achieve this development. Additionally, both the Colombian Military Forces and their U.S. counterparts strengthened their relationships, while training the Sergeant Majors to assume command responsibilities in Colombia.

"We firmly believe that in order to make an Army stronger, it has to have a professional, trained, [and] competent Non-Commissioned Officer corps," said Carlos Olvera, Command Sergeant Major, U.S. Army South. "What I have seen that they lack is including more leadership subjects in the Non-Commissioned Officer training program and also promoting a cultural exchange within the Army on the subject of authority for officers to delegate more authority to NCOs. From our point of view, delegating more authority to an NCO does not take authority away from an officer, but rather gives more responsibility to the NCO," explained Sgt. Maj. Olvera.

A Brazilian among Colombians

In the group of 20 Colombian visitors at Fort Leavenworth, there was one "outsider": First Sergeant Alessandro Nunes Sanmartim from the Brazilian Army, who is taking the Command Sergeant Major course within the Colombian Army. "We are beginning in this area in Brazil. The post of Command Advisor was just created in 2015, and now we have to begin a course at the Advanced School for Sergeants in Cruz Alta, Río Grande do Sul. However, in Colombia, it is already a bit more developed. The Command Sergeant Major rank already exists, but it does not compare to that of the U.S. Military. From the first day of talks, we realized that [Sergeant Majors] are more recognized, they have more recognition from their commanders, and more power to make decisions and give opinions, along with their bosses," said First Sgt. Nunes. "I think that my Army is going to value this very important course I have taken in Colombia with two weeks of advanced training in the United States. And think and hope it will be recognized by my Army so it can support the development of the Command Adjunct/Command Advisor program of in Brazil."

A similar exchange will also be held in Brazil during the second half of 2016, but before that takes place there will be others in the Dominican Republic and Paraguay to provide partner nation NCOs an opportunity for mutual learning from the U.S. Military’s NCO Corps. Visits to these countries are part of SOUTHCOM Commander Admiral Kurt Tidd’s priorities which include developing leaders and developing those leaders into NCOs.

"It is no secret that the Military Forces of the United States have a competitive advantage; in most cases, the officer corps of all branches of the U.S. Armed Forces is highly professional. Whether it be the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, or Coast Guard services, I think this group of NCOs is the best in the world, and all other countries now recognize it, especially countries that are truly interested in the evolution and development of their militaries toward a higher level, to become more than just a national security organization. They also recognize that the creation of a group like this one is the key to success," said Adm. Tidd during a recent interview with Diálogo.
"We can already see the benefits being reaped by countries that have taken advantage of this opportunity and are creating, establishing the foundations for their professional NCO corps. They recognize that this is the road they must follow."