Noncommissioned officers (NCOs) in Colombia are highly regarded regionally for their professionalism and hard work. Their leadership and experience in managing troops come with the great responsibility of being the commander’s right-hand man.
Diálogo had the opportunity to talk with Joint Command Sergeant Major Luis Alfredo Bueno Márquez, sergeant major of the Colombian Military Forces, during his visit to U.S. Southern Command (SOUTHCOM), about the advances, professionalization, and projection for the Colombian Military Forces’ NCO corps.
Diálogo: What does it mean to be the Joint Command Sergeant Major of the Colombian Military Forces?
Joint Command Sergeant Major Luis Alfredo Bueno Márquez, sergeant major of the Colombian Military Forces: It’s a responsibility that our commanders of the military high command give us so that we can manage projections for the NCOs in the tactical, operational, and strategic areas. For me, it’s an honor to be able to be in this position.
Diálogo: How many NCOs make up the Colombian Military Forces, and what is your commitment to them?
Command Sgt. Maj. Bueno: We have 42,000 NCOs who are under my responsibility. We have a great commitment to the new generations to be that lifeline, a bridge of good customs and practices, which have made the Colombian Military Forces a victorious institution, capable and trained to defend the Colombian people. Our NCOs grow stronger in their being, their knowledge, and their doing from the moment they enter the training schools, going through the whole journey from being corporals and petty officers to becoming sergeants, petty officers second class, and staff sergeants.
Diálogo: What qualities does a sergeant major need to have to lead troops?
Command Sgt. Maj. Bueno: You need people with a vocation. We belong to an institution that protects society and protects the nation. Therefore, the highest-ranking NCO is someone who is technically, tactically, and physically prepared to lead soldiers, men, and women, on the combat field, and achieve victory as such.
Diálogo: Colombia is at the regional vanguard in NCO corps advance. To what is due this progress and what is the long-term projection?
Command Sgt. Maj. Bueno: SOUTHCOM plays a very important role in this area, since they’ve been that pillar of support for knowledge and expertise, and they serve as a point of reference for us. At the moment we are working with SOUTHCOM on the professionalization of NCOs, for example, on the issue of gender equality, since we are taking female NCOs from the Army infantry, artillery, and cavalry to the combat field; in the Navy we have women working on ships, on the coasts, in the rivers, in submarines; and in the Air Force we have female technicians in helicopters and in aircraft.
Our projection as NCOs is to have an efficient and effective NCO. To achieve this, we have strengthened bilateral agreements with the Institute for Hemispheric Security Cooperation [WHINSEC] where we have 42 students from the Army NCO Academy and students from the Colombian Air Force are studying at the Inter-American Air Force Academy. This is so that we can project that NCO to 20 or 30 years, so that they have the educational, as well as technical and tactical tools to become those great sergeant majors and master chief petty officers. We have a sergeant major at the Army Sergeants Major Academy, preparing himself in leadership, communication, and organization so that he can strengthen our programs in Colombia, such as the Senior NCOs Integral Program (PISAJ); the Advanced NCO Course; and the Basic, Intermediate, and Advanced Leadership Training Course.
Diálogo: Indeed, you speak about PISAJ, a joint program between the U.S. and Colombian armies. What is the importance of this program for Colombia’s NCOs?
Command Sgt. Maj. Bueno: PISAJ has been conducted in Colombia for eight years, biannually, and at the moment we are carrying out the 16th [iteration]. PISAJ is something innovative because as senior NCOs we needed to have tools in education to avoid not being able to see the wood for the trees. On the international side, we are a benchmark for countries like Brazil, Mexico, Ecuador, Peru, and Bolivia, since these countries are very interested in our formation.
Diálogo: How do sergeant majors work in the Colombian Military Forces?
Command Sgt. Maj. Bueno: We have a sergeant major, a master chief petty officer, and a command chief master sergeant at the tactical, operational, and strategic levels in each military unit of the Army, Navy, and Air Force, who are in charge of training, human talent management, combat morale, and conducting reviews and inspections of operational and administrative processes. The sergeant major is a very important means for the commander. I feel very proud of my NCOs because they do a dedicated, sacrificial job and go the extra mile every day throughout Colombia.