On her first day as commander of the Colombian Navy Pacific Naval Force’s Coastal Patrol Vessel ARC José María Palas (PM-103), Lieutenant Yerliza Rodríguez coordinated a maritime interdiction, on February 1, 2020.
After receiving relevant intelligence, Lt. Rodríguez deployed an operation at the mouth of the Naya River, Valle del Cauca department, where authorities intercepted a vessel, seized a ton of cocaine hydrochloride and 500 gallons of fuel, and captured three members of the remnant armed group E30, consisting of former members of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC, in Spanish).
“I’m part of the solution; I’m on the positive-thinking side. I firmly believe that we will achieve our goals only if we do the right thing,” Lt. Rodríguez, the first woman in the Colombian Navy to serve as commander of a patrol vessel in the Pacific, told Diálogo. This mission deprived the criminal structure of $33 million, the Navy told the press.
Five days later, Lt. Rodríguez and the 22 crew members aboard the PM-103 seized 441 pounds of marijuana in the Pacific. “The fight is frantic,” she added. “We never stop; counternarcotics operations are constant.”
In 2008, Rodríguez, who was only 15, enrolled in the Admiral Padilla Naval Academy. It was a tremendous feat for her family, originally from Quibdó in Chocó department, a region known for poor living conditions, extreme insecurity, and criminal groups that ravage the community.
“In 2011, I got a degree in Naval Sciences and became one of the 35,000 service members that make up the Colombian Navy,” Lt. Rodríguez said. “Now I’m part of the forces that fight the evils in my region.”
After 13 years of service, she says this was the best decision she’s made.
Her gender, she says, was not important during her training. “I’m not treated better or worse for being a woman,” Lt. Rodríguez says. “We are trained and are expected to give our best; they expect the same from us as from men. With gender inclusion, the armed forces have made a lot of progress.”
The Navy has 1,078 women. “This has to do with our advances in integrating military women,” said Colombian Navy Rear Admiral John Fabio Giraldo, commander of the Pacific Naval Force. “We started an internal process that aims at making space for them in special operations commands, with very good results.”
Standing out at every stage of her career prepares Lt. Rodríguez for important missions. Between 2018 and 2019, she deployed with the 5th Colombian scientific mission to Antarctica to provide logistics support for research project development on board the ship ARC 20 de Julio (PZE-46).
Lt. Rodríguez is part of a process of opening up that started in 1984, when the first women joined the Navy. “Every mission I take part in helps me adopt a wider vision of the responsibility I have taken on for my country,” she said.
With increasingly active gender inclusion, the Colombian Navy is moving forward to consolidate and have a comprehensive force with women who will play a decisive role in the armed forces of the future. “It’s teamwork, because I couldn’t do anything, even with all the energy and the willingness, if it weren’t for my cohesive crew,” Lt. Rodríguez concluded.