Camouflage is part of her life and military vocation. “I am here to serve,” says Joint Command Sergeant Major Consuelo Díaz Álvarez, sergeant major of the Colombian Military Forces, the first female soldier to be promoted to that rank.
She proudly remembers the day she joined the Colombian Army in November 1993. Nearly 30 years have passed and since then her daily routine has consisted of inspections, conversations with soldiers, visits to their units, and words of encouragement to motivate them to seek professionalization.
Command Sgt. Maj. Díaz spoke with Diálogo about her priorities and the challenges of her new military responsibilities.
Diálogo: You are the highest-ranking noncommissioned officer (NCO) in the Colombian Military Forces. What does your achievement represent for military women?
Joint Command Sergeant Major Consuelo Díaz Álvarez, sergeant major of the Colombian Military Forces: It represents the emergence of female leadership in the region, the increasingly autonomous behavior of women in the profession of arms, and a vote of confidence in favor of the sacrificial and heroic work of women in the Military Forces. These changes are part of the new global scenario in land, sea, and air institutions. Parity is one of the symbols of the new democracies, which are presented as an ethical resource for strengthening the legitimacy of institutions.
Diálogo: What does it mean to be the Joint Command Sergeant Major of the Colombian Military Forces?
Command Sgt. Maj. Díaz: It’s an huge source of pride, an outstanding moment in my military career, which carries with it an enormous responsibility. I consider it a great achievement and a recognition of all military and non-uniformed women in the service of the forces, but especially of the NCO corps, whom I have the opportunity to represent today.
On a personal level, it’s a challenge to be able to continue building on the foundations that my predecessors envisioned together with the high command with regard to the professionalization of the NCO corps. At the working level, it’s to become a reference for all the personnel that it is not only the rank and position but also to close the gaps with the good customs and practices that have made NCOs the backbone of the forces over years of work.
Diálogo: How many NCOs make up the Colombian Military Forces, and what is your commitment to them?
Command Sgt. Maj. Díaz: Approximately 42,300 NCOs in the Army, Navy, and Air Force, and I have set as my objective to strengthen and project their military careers in all ranks so that they can direct their efforts toward a general objective: advising commanders at the different levels (strategic, operational, and tactical) to make them the direct support of the command as multipliers of policies and conductors of their own activities in the units (tactics, techniques, and procedures). To all of us who wear a uniform, to feel proud to be NCOs.
Diálogo: What skills are needed to be a command sergeant major?
Command Sgt. Maj. Díaz: A command sergeant major is a product of their years of service. We must have the ability to analyze, contribute, articulate, guide, teach, encourage, recommend, and support the different processes, which allows the military to fulfill institutional objectives. We are the support of commanders at the different levels of command; the guides, and we serve as examples to our subordinates by having as a fundamental basis our principles and values, institutional commitment, and compliance with human rights and international humanitarian law.
Diálogo: What do you consider to be your greatest challenge?
Command Sgt. Maj. Díaz: To strengthen the positioning of the ranks of sergeant major, command sergeant major, joint command sergeant major and their equivalents in the forces, bearing in mind that they are assigned as the direct advisers in the decision-making of the commanders.
Diálogo: Why did you choose to join the Army?
Command Sgt. Maj. Díaz: I chose to be part of the Army because I wanted to serve my country and I joined as an NCO in the administrative corps in 1993. Being in the military is a noble and altruistic profession, where, thanks to vocation, principles, and values, we help to build a better country for our children and for all Colombians.
Diálogo: If a teenager asked you for advice about joining the Colombian Military Forces, what would you tell them?
Command Sgt. Maj. Díaz: I would talk to them about the importance of having a successful lifelong project, of being useful to society and the nation. To those who ask, I would tell them that belonging to the Colombian Military Forces is an honor; on the shoulders of every soldier, sailor, and airman rests the tranquility, prosperity, and future of this beautiful homeland. To wear the camouflage is a vocation that glorifies life and exalts man; the call to serve Colombia is felt by people with a strong heart full of unconditional love for their fellow man.
Diálogo: During your military career, what advances have you observed in gender issues?
Command Sgt. Maj. Díaz: Since 1976, when the first female officers were commissioned and in 1983, when the first female NCOs joined, the scenarios for women expanded because they were able to occupy important positions and demonstrate their capabilities and strengths. The Military Forces have empowered and made women’s work more visible. Today we are at different strategic, operational, and tactical levels, which support and demonstrate the institutional projection and mission.
Today we are protagonists of one of the greatest cultural changes in history. We now occupy decision-making spaces and are a key factor that can help to better understand the causes of a conflict and its alternative solutions, as well as to promote measures that respond to the different needs and consolidate peace over time.
Diálogo: Colombia is at the regional vanguard in the advancement of the NCO corps. What is the reason for this progress and what is the long-term projection?
Command Sgt. Maj. Díaz: In this process of professionalization and positioning of NCOs, the relationship with U.S. Southern Command has played an important role. Cooperation between nations that share democratic vision, principles, and values has been fundamental in achieving an NCO corps that guarantees the fulfillment of the constitutional mission throughout Colombia and thus increases the prevention and response capabilities of the Military Forces to confront the challenges that threaten the nation.