The third Western Hemisphere Exchange Symposium brought together commanders from the air forces and military high commands of the region to share lessons learned on humanitarian aid and disaster respond among other topics.
The spate of natural disasters that Latin America and the Caribbean experienced in 2017 keeps the air forces of the region busy. Heavy rains, massive hurricanes, and high-magnitude earthquakes, which leave hundreds of victims, unrecoverable material losses, and security threats, prompt air forces to unite and prepare.
More than 100 commissioned and non-commissioned officers and other regional leaders came together in the third Western Hemisphere Exchange Symposium, organized by the Inter-American Air Forces Academy (IAAFA). The symposium was held March 12-16, 2018, in San Antonio, Texas. The goal was to share best practices and lessons learned on humanitarian aid and disaster response, maintenance and upkeep of aircraft, command and control of airspace, and operations against narcotrafficking.
“Welcome to IAAFA. IAAFA is all of us,” said U.S. Air Force Colonel Isaac Davidson, IAAFA commandant, during his opening speech. “This symposium will generate conversations and allow us to learn best practices to handle resources for the population during an emergency situation, among other issues.”
The symposium was marked with events celebrating the institution’s 75th anniversary, which included a gala dinner, a student athletic competition, and a tour of the academic facilities, among other activities. Argentina, Belize, Bolivia, Colombia, Honduras, Jamaica, Mexico, Nicaragua, Panama, the Dominican Republic, Ecuador, El Salvador, Guatemala, Haiti, Paraguay, Peru, Suriname, Uruguay, a delegate from the countries of the Caribbean Regional Security System, and several U.S. military organizations participated in the international event.
The Ecuadorean Air Force knows the importance of the issue firsthand. “The symposium allows us to analyze the issues that affect the region, for example, risk management, earthquakes, and floods that affect us all. These conferences help us visualize the best way to unite,” said Ecuadorean Air Force Brigadier General Marco Rubio Brito Jurado, commander of the Education and Doctrine Command. “When the earthquake happened in Ecuador, we knew we weren’t alone, we were with our sister countries.”
Cooperating on natural disasters
“This symposium allows us to experience that, instead of being closed off to the world and mistrusting our neighbors; we trust that our neighbors will come to help us in times of crisis,” said Peruvian Air Force Colonel Jaime Chávez, chief of Operations of the Air Force General Staff Operations Command. “It allows us to trust that, when a natural phenomenon occurs, we have a neighbor that thinks like we do and will be the first to arrive to help.”
Argentine Air Force Major General Oscar Emilio Palumbo, general director of Military Aerospace Operational Security, said, “The symposium facilitates the exchange of experiences shared by countries of the region. [We can] draw conclusions that allow us to increase our efficiency throughout the area of operation in natural disasters, among other matters.”
“Cooperation among countries is the key to responding to questions that are addressed during presentations at the symposium… No country can do it alone,” said U.S. Air Force Lieutenant Colonel Albert Nieves, commander of the 837rd Training Squadron of IAAFA. “These forums help us recognize the strengths of partner nations and the areas in which they can contribute to our shared vision.”
A shared history
“Many of the generals and commanders of the air forces that are here were once IAAFA students,” said Brazilian Air Force Major Allan Buch Sampaio, an IAAFA guest instructor. “My students are leaders whose countries identified as having a bright future. Without a doubt, they will be at the highest levels when the time comes.”
IAAFA opened its doors in 1943 at the Albrook Air Force Station in Panama. Since then, it became the first academic institution for regional air forces to offer technical and military instruction, mainly in Spanish. It also created a shared forum to learn, debate, and plan in cooperation with other air forces.
“I took the leadership course in 1997. My experience at IAAFA was enriching and helped me a lot in my military and personal career,” said Brigadier General Timo Hernández Duarte, commander of the Guatemalan Air Force, as he pointed to a photograph of himself with the class of 97C. “Today in my capacity as commander, I want to express my gratitude for the benefits we received from this institution. I represent the voice of the commissioned and non-commissioned officers of the Guatemalan Air Force who came and benefitted from the academy.”
To be part of the history of IAAFA, a prestigious academy with a long tradition that builds international and long-lasting partnerships, is a great honor for many. “It’s been an excellent opportunity and a gratifying experience,” said Colombian Air Force Non-Commissioned Officer Academy and IAAFA student Víctor Alexis Pinzón Pérez. “It’s important for my family that I be here. [You are introduced to] different cultures and learn a lot.”
“IAAFA has been a second home for me,” said Panamanian National Air and Naval Service Second Lieutenant Carlos Javier Salazar Díaz, also an IAAFA student. “They don’t receive us as foreigners, but as just another member of their air force where friendship is shared.”
After an intense day of debates during the symposium and IAAFA anniversary activities, participants returned to their countries with new knowledge. “We analyzed various issues that are important to our countries,” said Major General Ivan Guillermo Pérez Rojas, general commander of the Bolivian Air Force. “You take experiences with you that can be used in each of our systems.”
For Lt. Col. Nieves, the anniversary of IAAFA represents a regional achievement. “It has been 75 years of a hemisphere that has united to fight against our shared challenges. Throughout these last 75 years, a history of success prevailed throughout the region,” he concluded.