Colombian Air Force Major Ligia Alexandra Medina Gómez, a student in the General Staff course [CEM, in Spanish] 2021 at the General Rafael Reyes Prieto War College (ESDEG, in Spanish), told Diálogo that “the women who are in the CEM are making a difference. Our professionalism and capacity are not linked to gender, but to our readiness in different areas. In any role, what matters is [one’s] professionalism and character to take on challenges.”
ESDEG grooms senior officers of the Colombian Military Forces and foreign officers who take CEM, High Military Studies, and Military Information courses, which are requirements for the promotion to the ranks of brigadier general or rear admiral, and to lieutenant colonel or commander.
“At the beginning of the course, participants felt some sort of doctrinal shock, but as we moved forward, the paradigms regarding the role of women in military institutions changed. After seeing our capabilities and experience, the change in attitude was surprising,” said Major Medina.
12 of 322
She is one of 12 female officers enrolled in the CEM, out of a total of 322 students. The one year course began to admit military women in 2018. The Colombian Military Forces have 10,133 women out of 222,807 service members, according to data from the Military Forces’ General Command.
“The participation of women in the different processes of the military institution has increased, and it’s a very important element for completing the different processes that the institutional mission requires,” Colombian Army Major General Luis Mauricio Ospina Gutiérrez, ESDEG director, said.
The Armed Forces of Colombia’s process of opening up to female participation in defense and sovereignty roles dates back to 1976, when the Army authorized women’s admission into the military ranks as administrative officers.
“Respect for equal rights allows women to take part in national security and defense processes, as well as training in the military forces and in the social context. The men and women in our land, sea, river, and air components work together as part of our organizational structure, leading to training process optimization,” Maj. Gen. Ospina said.
Respect for equal rights allows women to take part in national security and defense processes, as well as training in the military forces and in the social context. The men and women in our land, sea, river, and air components work together as part of our organizational structure, leading to training process optimization,” Colombian Army Major General Luis Mauricio Ospina Gutiérrez, ESDEG director.
“ESDEG has taught me many things, especially to think more strategically, and it has opened that field of possibilities for me to learn about other topics and to analyze deeply my contribution as a service member and as a woman to my country,” said Colombian Navy Lieutenant Commander Edith Lucia Fuentes López. “Being in the CEM is truly a great satisfaction and an achievement, because it’s a goal that every officer sets for themselves during their career.”
In addition to training military personnel, ESDEG also trains civil representatives on security and defense issues, as a graduate school that offers master’s degrees in National Security and Defense, Human Rights and International Law of Armed Conflicts, Strategy and Geopolitics, and Cybersecurity and Cyberdefense.
ESDEG has signed 66 academic cooperation agreements, 35 of which are in Colombia and 32 with international institutions. “Colombian women’s time and expertise prove that their leadership in military processes is paramount and essential in every step of their careers; in addition, many of them are exemplary mothers who manage their families, their position, rank, and profession with pride,” Maj. Gen. Ospina added.
Marta Lucia Ramírez, former minister of National Defense, is the first female vice president in the history of Colombia. The country also has two female Army generals: Major General Paulina Leguizamón and Major General Clara Galvis.
“My promotion shows the transformation of the Colombian Military Forces. It’s the transformation of a much more inclusive military force, more similar to our current society, where women also play a very important role,” said Maj. Gen. Galvis, the first Colombian Army surgeon general and the second female general in the Colombian Military Forces.
Colombian Army Major General Clara Esperanza Galvis Díaz
“I am proud that I can be in a space that was initially created for male personnel only. Reaching the highest rank we can hold is an absolute honor, but it’s also a responsibility aimed at continuing to opening doors and making examples of our actions, so that [the military] can incorporate more women in positions of responsibility and in these ranks that generate change.”
This is how Maj. Gen. Galvis, surgeon general and general director of the Colombian Central Military Hospital, with specializations in Pediatrics, Neonatology, Health Services Management and Medical Audit, as well as University Teaching, among other studies, describes her dedication to her military career.
“Being in the forces requires something very important, which is passion. There is commitment and discipline, but the passion for what we do has to be there, and it’s what identifies us,” Maj. Gen. Galvis says.
Her father, an Army cavalry service member, was her inspiration, but it was her medical internship at the Military Hospital, where she provided care to military patients, that brought her closer to Colombia’s military reality, motivating her to join the Army.
“This profession has something very special, which is that you visualize yourself and project yourself in time. It’s a career that has ranks and that allows us to grow as professionals, [as] people, and to have family stability.”
One of her great challenges was to “break that paradigm that women cannot be in the context of the military forces, that we are weaker, that we do not have the strength, and show that we were there to complement those profiles that the military forces needed, with knowledge, readiness, and discipline.”
Maj. Gen. Galvis works on gender policies in the military forces, with an emphasis on the role of women and the prevention of violence.
“We have created a very important space where we have a gender office for women’s management, an observatory that allows us to look at what has happened to women since they returned to school, where they are located, [and] if we are using their knowledge and profile well.”
Showing great satisfaction with the progress achieved, Maj. Gen. Galvis says: “It’s no longer an Army that speaks of men and women, but rather of profiles and capabilities.”
Colombian Air Force Major Ligia Alexandra Medina Gómez
“Military women are women with character and responsibility, who belong to military institutions that traditionally had a deeply rooted doctrine, but this has changed over time. We are hardworking women who want to serve our country,” says Colombian Air Force Major Ligia Alexandra Medina Gómez, an aeronautical administrator, who specializes in aircraft maintenance and armament.
She entered the military by “mere coincidence,” as she attended a local fair that featured exhibits on the armed forces. Her life changed from that moment on. She enlisted, and although she failed the first physical test, she persevered until she was accepted into the Air Force.
She adapted to the disciplinary regime, to the long hours of study, the arduous training and work. “I am very proud of my strength. It has given me everything, my career, my ability to take on the roles I’ve been given, and that’s even how I met my husband,” she says, with a smile. “With everything I learned in the operational and administrative part, I have grown professionally and personally, molding my character and who I am today.”
She began her military career specializing in air defense. She served as an air surveillance officer, advisor to the planning and regulations section, head of the statistics section, and commander of the weapons control unit, among other roles. She went on to specialize in aircraft maintenance and took on roles in maintenance plans and programs. Before she started her studies at ESDEG, she served as head of aviation contracts at the Colombian Air Force Purchasing Agency.
“There is a fundamental institutional change [in terms of] gender for process development, at an institution where everyone is equal and has individual and collective capabilities,” she says, recalling the challenges she faced during her military career. “All positions are important, vital, and contribute to the success of operations.”
“The military is the best profession in the world. Having that vocation of service, to serve Colombia, to contribute a grain of sand every day, as part of the work that enables [the forces] to carry out all kinds of operations in any corner of the Colombian territory, is an enriching experience.”
Colombian Navy Lieutenant Commander Edith Lucia Fuentes López
“I’m passionate about challenges. This opportunity came to me in 1999, when the Navy allowed women to study naval engineering or study in the surface specialty for the first time. Two of my dreams came true: joining the Navy and becoming a naval engineer.”
This is the story of Lieutenant Commander Edith Lucia Fuentes López, who graduated from the Admiral Padilla Naval Cadet School in December 2003, as the first female naval engineer officer specializing in mechanics.
“At first, it was a tough experience, because this branch tends to be male-dominated. For my four years of instruction, I was in an all-male course, and I managed to prove that I could rank first in class, without resorting to any influences, but rather by working and studying.”
Her military vocation arose during childhood. At the age of 10, she already wanted to wear the military uniform. Her parents, who were teachers, encouraged her to choose other professions, as they were not eager to have a military woman in the family. When she showed her parents the admission letter from the Navy, they said they would support her, almost certain that their daughter would come back home in less than a month. Today, they are proud of her.
During Lt. Cmdr. Fuentes’ military career, she served as head of the Damage Control Division for the multipurpose warship ARC Buenaventura, head of the Automatic Control Division for the Missile Frigate ARC Caldas, and head of the Engineering Department at the Caribbean Coast Guard Command, among other positions.
“You are not going to be able to do this, I’m telling you right now,” she recalls about one of her first experiences leading a group of noncommissioned officers, some of whom were older, who had never had a woman as their superior. For her, each role has been a challenge of its own. “I’m the boss here. One demonstrates good leadership by doing things well and leading by example. I have had to open a field where, for the first time, a woman was in charge.”
In 2006, while participating in the PANAMAX multinational exercise, she received an invitation to sail on a Chilean ship where the crew wanted to experience having a woman on board.
For her performance, leadership, fortitude of character, and commitment to the institution, she has received several awards, including the “Our pride” (Nuestro orgullo) award in the operational category, for being selected as the best Caribbean Naval Force officer.
“The military forces have changed. They no longer see women as a problem; on the contrary, they see us as an opportunity. I want to leave an impeccable career path and become an admiral; that may be the legacy I can leave to the women in the Navy.”