Improving human capital, maintaining and increasing operational readiness, and strategic planning are the challenges General Javier Eduardo Iturriaga del Campo, commander of the Chilean Army, outlined as he assumed command on March 9, 2022.
Gen. Iturriaga spoke with Diálogo about his vision of command, human capital, and institutional capabilities for mission success.
Diálogo: You are the 61st commander in chief of the Army. What is your most important challenge as commander in chief?
General Javier Eduardo Iturriaga del Campo, commander of the Chilean Army: My mission is to promote the modernization processes that will enable us to rise to the challenges modern times present, in accordance with the mandate that the Constitution and the laws impose, and the daily demands of our citizens, whom we serve.
The most important challenge is centered on our soldiers, on preparing them, motivating them, instructing them, training them, giving them the respect and the possibilities of professional and personal growth that they deserve. Chile has an Army of professionals made up of motivated people with a high vocation of service to their country, which we must not only maintain, but also strengthen, because only with them will we be able to successfully take on any challenge that the future demands of us.
Diálogo: In your inaugural speech, you announced four main lines of action: human capital, exercising command with a human sense at every level, maintaining and increasing operational readiness, and strategic planning. What strategies are you implementing for their success?
Gen. Iturriaga: The strategies and core responsibility for implementing these four lines of action are several and range from our educational system to managing the commanders in each unit. We can’t focus on this command, but it must be understood as a mission to be fulfilled by all of us who are part of the Army. For this reason, in my first weeks, I have visited most of the units in the country to talk directly with all the officers, noncommissioned officers (NCOs), and soldiers who are part of them, to deliver them this command concept and explain that, in it, we all have a mission to fulfill.
These visits included the units that are deployed in the field and, being true to the message I want to convey of trust and example, it involved spending several days with our soldiers to learn first-hand about their aspirations, difficulties, and projects.
Our true strength, as a military institution, lies in our people, in their unity, cohesion, and efficiency, in the fact that we can all exercise our vocation of service to the fullest, on the basis of merit and personal effort.
I can say that, in this journey that I will maintain throughout my term of command, I have been able to observe that Chile not only has one of the most professional and best-equipped armies in the region, which is recognized both internally and externally, but that it is also made up of men and women of great vocation and highly professional.
Diálogo: What new capabilities does the Chilean Army Aviation Brigade have?
Gen. Iturriaga: The Army Aviation Brigade plays a fundamental role within our institution’s defense structure, but at the same time it is a great tool for us to help the community in cases of disasters or emergencies, which is why we have enhanced its multipurpose capabilities.
Our helicopters have been equipped with 1,000 and 1,300 liter Bambi Buckets water systems to fight forest fires, as well as external loading hook systems to transport food, animal fodder, among others, to quickly bring aid to isolated areas. We also empower them to fulfill their search and rescue role with thermal cameras (FLIR) and other specialized tools. The Brigade has a specific and highly trained unit to perform these tasks, the Air Rescue Unit.
Our helicopters and airplanes have been equipped with stretchers to transport the sick and wounded, as well as patients with [medical] complexity, and varying capabilities that were extremely useful in the recent pandemic.
Finally, the goal is for our crews to be able to fly around the clock and in all weather conditions if necessary, so we have also equipped them with night vision goggles.
Diálogo: The Army Warfare Academy has foreign officers. How are these international exchanges carried out?
Gen. Iturriaga: The Chilean Army is proud to have one of the oldest war academies in the world, which is about to celebrate its 136th anniversary. In this long trajectory it has not only been fundamental for our officers’ instruction, but also in the creation of similar academies in several Latin American countries (Ecuador, Colombia, and El Salvador), where many of its professors have taught, as they have and still do in national universities.
Today the Academy welcomes students and teachers from Germany, Argentina, Brazil, Colombia, South Korea, Ecuador, Spain, Mexico, and the United States, as well as officers from the Chilean Navy and Air Force.
The exchanges and activities with the armies of partner nations are carried out in compliance with our role of cooperation in international matters and as part of Chile’s ongoing policy of contributing to peace among nations, fully coordinated with the ministries of Defense and Foreign Affairs.
The War Academy is open to civilians and, since 2015, we’ve had Chilean officials belonging to the Ministry of Defense and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in our courses; we teach master’s degrees in Military History and Strategic Thinking, in Disaster Risk Planning and Management, and in Strategic Planning and Management, for anyone who wants to take them.
Diálogo: Exercise Southern Vanguard is conducted with U.S. Army South. What other types of exchanges do you carry out and what are the benefits?
Gen. Iturriaga: One of our mission areas is to contribute to international cooperation and our country’s foreign policy, and within that framework the Army maintains a broad agenda of knowledge and cooperation at the regional and international level with partner nations. The Chilean Armed Forces are currently participating in several peacekeeping missions, specifically in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Cyprus, Colombia, and the Middle East, and in this area, they also participate in exercises such as U.S. Southern Command’s Southern Vanguard.
Last year  we did this exercise in our mountains, at an altitude of almost 3,000 meters, where U.S. soldiers shared experiences with our soldiers in the Portillo area (about 100 kilometers from Santiago) for 13 days with a high level of training for the participants.
We have Exercise Volcano between Chile and Argentina, the Special Operations Exercise Southern Star between Chile and the United States, and Exercise Worthington Challenger, organized by the Canadian Army. There are also exchanges between the U.S. and Chilean military academies, such as West Point and the Bernardo O’Higgins Military School, the Sandhurst Competition, and the humanitarian assistance exercise organized by the French Armed Forces in the Pacific.
In Europe, we attended several trainings such as the British Army’s Cambrian Patrol and space operations and cyber defense exercises with Spain and Portugal.
These operations have relevant benefits, because they allow us to fraternize with the militaries of other countries, to get to know them and how they operate. These exercises provide our soldiers with an irreplaceable life experience — such as operating with soldiers from other countries and in a different language — which is in keeping with one of the principal objectives of our command, which is to strengthen their capabilities and knowledge and to open up new opportunities for their military careers.
Diálogo: What progress has been made in the professionalization of NCOs?
Gen. Iturriaga: Curricular innovation involving our NCOs, who are the heart of our force, is the priority of the Army’s Institutional Education System, which has established these new training standards to be in keeping with the capabilities required by the land force, which have become very demanding, in keeping with the weapons systems we operate and the functions we perform.
The career track at the NCO School was updated through the Rebolledo Plan, which modified the professional training of the institution’s future corporals and sergeants not only in terms of time, which went from one to two years of common training and kept one year of professional training, but also standardized their respective levels to the content of the officer curriculum.
This change led to a series of updates in the professional career: Today there is a new basic course for Service and Arms NCOs, which would be a third year of training, where the corporal receives his specialization to continue with a training sequence process for the permanent staff, which, in turn, ends with a degree from the Military Polytechnic Academy.
This new training sequence coordinates different required knowledge and courses, such as the Service and Arms NCO Candidate Course, where the advising area is emphasized, either as assistant to the General Staff or chief of Staff. It’s important to point out that the promotion to senior NCO, the highest honor our NCOs can aspire to, is made up of another series of requirements and elements, one of them being a knowledge test that gives greater objectivity to the process.