Military Exchange in El Salvador Highlights Importance of Non-Commissioned Officers
By Dialogo May 20, 2016
From May 10th-12th, senior-level non-commissioned officers (NCO) from all three branches of the Salvadoran Military and the New Hampshire National Guard met with representatives from U.S. Southern Command (SOUTHCOM) in San Salvador to exchange ideas on how to support the role of NCOs in the Salvadoran Armed Forces. The exchange with Senior Salvadoran NCOs was the first of its type and came to fruition after Major General Felix Nuñez Escobar, Chief of the Joint Staff of the Salvadoran Armed Forces, requested the U.S. Military's help in developing a program to build the Salvadoran Military's NCO corps and help bridge the gap between them and commissioned officers.
Similar exchanges will also take place in the Dominican Republic and Paraguay with the intent of providing an opportunity to partner nation NCOs to learn from each other and the U.S. Military's NCO corps.
In San Salvador, the exchange began with a presentation by Salvadoran Army Sergeant Major Marcos Alfaro, who explained the responsibilities and objectives NCOs have in supporting the government against threats by gangs, organized crime, and drug trafficking. “Our objective in this exchange is, first of all, to get support from the high command to start the project aimed at developing our non-commissioned officers to make them more professional so they can become a vital tool to facilitate the role of the Chief of the Joint Staff at any assigned level,” he told Diálogo
As the first country where such a program is being implemented, the expectation level was high in El Salvador. “My hope is that both of our countries and our state of New Hampshire, specifically, have NCOs that come out of this with a better understanding of their roles, a better understanding of NCOs in other countries, and a broader sense of how to train to work with other countries. It’s a great opportunity to learn lessons from each other,"said Command Sergeant Major Lore H. Ford IV, lead officer of the New Hampshire contingent. "I hope they take something from us, and I’m especially hopeful that we take something from them.”
After Sgt. Major Alfaro briefed on the challenges Salvadoran NCOs face, the group visited two NCO training facilities in La Unión, located on the Gulf of Fonseca.
The first visit was to the Second Lieutenant Mariano Iglesias Moreno NCO and Armed Forces Troop School of the Military Education and Doctrine Command, where junior NCO candidates train in all aspects of the Military, including Special Amphibious Forces. Lieutenant Colonel Jualberto Calderón Barrientos, the academy's senior officer, said, “all candidates must train in all aspects to meet the challenges and threats posed to the homeland, as well as participate in international missions. Our theme is 'Preparedness for all aspects of Security'”.
"The program at the academy is oriented to promote the honor and pride of being a non-commissioned officer in the Armed Forces of El Salvador," Sgt. Major Alfaro said to the visitors. He spoke about the values and responsibilities of an NCO, emphasizing the important support NCOs provide to Commissioned Officers in the field and at every aspect of their roles. "NCOs must be ready to meet the threats and challenges faced by El Salvador and the importance of their roles in foreign missions," he said. "Remember NCOs are the direct link with commissioned officers in every sector of the Military”.
He explained to Diálogo
that “it was important to talk with them and instill in them the pride of being NCOs and to make sure they knew they had the support of the Chief of the Joint Staff, who is very interested in making sure they have the most professional training."
The second visit was to the Naval Education and Instruction Center, where U.S. Navy Chief Petty Officer David S. Ribeiro told Sgt. Major Alfaro about the role of the U.S. Navy's NCOs.
“We want to make a cultural change for the institution where Salvador's Armed Forces members will view NCOs as a major support tool for commissioned officers at any level,” added the Salvadoran Army Sergeant Major.
“The exercise here in El Salvador met and exceeded my expectations. One of our NCO expectations with our partner nations is that they make the jump themselves into requesting more responsibility, more training, and to be more relevant within their Army. We saw it on our first visit in January and from there to four months later, they really have taken the NCO development forward and I’m very happy about that,” said U.S. Army Sergeant Major Karim Mella, who is in charge of the NCO Development Partnership Program at SOUTHCOM and a participant in this exchange.
“One thing that is noticeable is the higher level of their questions and requests compared to previous opportunities. The type of questions they ask to gain information from a leadership perspective; now they want to help their fellow NCOs get to their level. That alone is a monumental achievement especially in countries that traditionally are officer heavy,” added Sgt. Major Mella.
Regarding the future development of the NCO program in El Salvador, Sgt. Major Alfaro emphasized that they must continue to gain the support of the Chief of the Joint Staff of the Salvadoran Armed Forces, so the program can continue to grow. "We hope that the U.S Armed Forces continues to consider the Salvadoran Armed Forces partners in future exchanges. I am grateful for the support we have received from SOUTHCOM; it will help us move forward in support of the development of NCOs with the main objective of creating a team of professional NCOs,” he concluded.
Sgt. Major Mella noted that although it is not easy to see results right away in an NCO development program such as this, "eventually we see results in a few months and a few years down the road. My hope is that every time we go to a country to offer support, they take ideas from us and apply them in their country in the best way it will work for each of their armies."