Army Major General Helder Fernán Giraldo Bonilla, who has 38 years of military service, assumed command of the Colombian Military Forces on August 12,2022.
His operational achievements, development of academic programs to strengthen soldiers’ skills, and his conductin different positions that have allowed him to contribute to Colombia’s historical memory are part of the new commander’s military legacy.
Maj. Gen. Giraldo met with Diálogo to discuss his priorities as commander.
Diálogo: What are your priorities as commander?
Army Major General Helder Fernán Giraldo Bonilla, commander of the Colombian Military Forces: I have several priorities as commander, among them to contribute decisively to the government policy within the concept of human security, through the execution of military operations, and by supportingother state entities in a harmonious way to allow for the integration and synchronization of our capabilities. Likewise, to defend Colombians from violence, and work so that families feel safe and calm through the creation of prevention programs and to strengthen our military operations to weaken criminal groups. And something very important is to work for the modernization of the Military Forces with respect for human rights and the correct application of International Humanitarian Law (IHL). The intent will always be to work hard to unite the Military Forces at all levels, from the tactical to the strategic, and to strengthen morale and educational levels for members of our Military Forces, along with institutional transparency.
Diálogo: The Colombian Military Forces’ operations have dealt heavy blows to narcotrafficking. What kind of combined and joint operations do you carry out to succeed?
Maj. Gen. Giraldo: We carry out joint operations with our Army, Air Force, and Navy, in coordination with the National Police and interinstitutionally with other state institutions. All this allows for the integration of capabilities to fulfill our constitutional mission, either with soldiers who are in fluvial or maritime areas or carrying out air or land operations. Thegoal is that through this integration of efforts we can affect [criminal] groups, especially in terms of command and control of organized armed groups, always aimed at protecting the civilian population. We, soldiers of the land, sea, air, and river are protecting the entire Colombian population in order to prevent crime and illegal actions from contaminating their lives and taking ownership of their security and peace of mind.
Diálogo: What strategies will you use against criminal organizations that affect the environment?
Maj. Gen. Giraldo: The Military Forces are protectors of all forms of life, which is why one of our priorities is the defense of the environment and natural resources. We protect ecosystems through activities to prevent environmental crimes. We also counter actions that threaten the biodiversity of protected areas and contribute to mitigating the impact of illicit economies that feed off environmental damage.
We work in an interinstitutional manner to develop sustainable practices that take into account natural resources and environmental degradation caused mostly by illegal groups to generate illicit economies, such as deforestation.
Within the framework of the Unified State Action, we develop processes to contribute to environmental recovery such as the restoration of burned forests, and other activities that will allow us to protect the flora and fauna species that are proper to our nation.
Our actions in terms of environmental protection seek to monitor deforestation to which some national territories have been exposed, reducing the impact of illegal economies in areas that could take between seven and 10 years to repopulate their species of flora and fauna.
We contribute to the recovery of the environment with the restoration of burned forests and other activities that allow for the protection of species of flora and fauna that are part of the identity of our country. Likewise, we do a very special work that has to do with the protection of rivers, of tributaries, which are the ones that give life, are the ones that bring drinking water to the aqueducts of many regions, but which are currently being contaminated with mercury. So, we also carry out activities to clean and disinfect these water sources.
The Military Forces are aware of the importance of the Amazon rainforest for biodiversity, water, and the sustainability of the nation, as such our efforts are also directed to the protection and recovery of this territory. One of the projects in this area is to build the first fleet of military airplanes or helicopters to be deployed throughout the region to put out fires that threaten our flora and fauna.
Diálogo: What was the importance of the first Hybrid Senior Enlisted Leader Seminar on Women, Peace, and Security, held between the Colombian MilitaryForces’ General Command and U.S. Southern Command’s (SOUTHCOM)Women, Peace, and Security program?
Maj. Gen. Giraldo: The presence of women in the Military Forces has always meant a change of vision and a closer approach to the communities. Thus, women in the Military Forces have been, are and will continue to be fundamental to face the challenges of times. As such, we held this important event for the region and us with the support of SOUTHCOM, focused on the professional growth of women in the defense and security forces, and their significant contributions.
We highlighted the work of our women, not only for their great performance in the administrative part, but also in the operational part, and today they stand out in areas where previously there were only men. Today we have Command Sergeant Major Consuelo Díaz as the leader of our noncommissioned officers (NCOs), who is a person with excellent personal and professional qualities to carry out this mission, since command sergeants major are the commander’s right-hand, and as such, we know that we’re going to be very well represented.
Diálogo: You were director of the Professional Soldiers Training School. What are some of the progress of NCOs?
Maj. Gen. Giraldo: Our professional soldiers have integrity, courage, and a firm conviction in service. I had the privilege of leading the Professional Soldiers School where academic programs were implemented to strengthen our troops in many areas, among them, specialization No. 11, Human Rights and IHL Soldier Promoter.
The training of professional soldiers is in line with the needs and responsibility to our citizens. In the school, soldiers acquire, through 11 specialties, elements for combat, suitability, expertise in the handling of weapons, and operational art, among others.
Diálogo: You are the author of the books Noncommissioned Officers Throughout History, Rain of Steel Thousand Days War,and co-author of the book Identity and National Interests of Colombia, among others. What is your objective as an author?
Maj. Gen. Giraldo: My objective as an author is to contribute to the preservation of institutional history and traditions, building narratives that reclaim the democratic values of the nation and the Military Forces’ contributions to building the homeland.