Colombian and U.S. noncommissioned officers (NCOs) planned and spearheaded the second hybrid Senior Enlisted Leader (SEL) Women, Peace, and Security (WPS) Seminar in Santa Marta, Colombia, May 22-24, 2023.
Joint Command Sergeant Major Consuelo Díaz Álvarez, sergeant major of the Colombian Military Forces, and U.S. Army Command Sergeant Major Benjamin Jones, command senior enlisted leader at U.S. Southern Command (SOUTHCOM), worked together with their teams to host the largest in person and virtual SEL WPS event.
U.S. Army General Laura J. Richardson, SOUTHCOM commander, surrounded by NCOs trailblazers making history across the Western Hemisphere, welcomed them to the seminar.
“WPS isn’t just a ‘nice to have’ initiative, it is a core value of everything we do to make U.S. and Colombian military forces more ready, more resilient, and more effective at keeping our citizens safe. This is especially true for SEL,” said Gen. Richardson.
“We know from both experience and statistics that by including women enlisted leaders in our units, military forces are better able to engage with key groups within the local population, gain key perspectives on the security situation, and better assess the needs of the citizens across the country.”
Although the U.S. and Colombia are champions of WPS, there are still many challenges to achieving full gender equality, Gen. Richardson added.
The Colombian Military Forces’ General Command (CGFM) and SOUTHCOM hosted the hybrid event, which brought over 300 in-person attendees and some 1,000 online participants.
The event brought together women and men from military and security forces of Argentina, Brazil, Belize, Canada, Colombia, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Guatemala, Guyana, Jamaica, Panama, Peru, Suriname, the United Kingdom, the United States, and Uruguay to discuss the theme “Military Women United with a Common Purpose: Leading Changes into the 21st Century.”
“We seek to promote gender equity and praise the role of women in various scenarios that until recently were exclusively restricted to men,” said Major General Luis Mauricio Ospina Gutiérrez, commander of the Colombian Army, on behalf of Army Major General Helder Fernán Giraldo Bonilla, CGFM commander.
“It is a necessary transformation to start talking about peace building and consolidation, because it is through the recognition of the human being from equity and respect for their rights, that the possibility of a different country is conceived.”
Implementing strategies to safeguard and promote women’s leadership in the defense and security sector is crucial, Maj. Gen. Ospina added.
WPS in context
The WPS event that focused on the topics of recruiting and retention, organizational change, and building your team, was organized with breakout sessions followed by panel discussions.
Participants highlighted the professional growth, capability, and integrity of SEL women and their significant contributions and ability to lead at the highest and most trusted enlisted positions in each of the military and security forces.
“The participation of women in the armed forces is important. We must be integrated as a team to have excellent results,” said Peruvian Army Sergeant Major Jaime Anibal Cacñahuaray Chumpitaz, advisor to the Peruvian Armed Forces’ Joint Command.
“We must value the capabilities of our female personnel because they fulfill functions in their daily work and have many responsibilities at home with their families. In our military forces, we are working on gender equality, and we are going in the right direction,” he added.
Jamaica Defence Force (JDF) Warrant Officer 2 Rose Lewis, intelligence specialist, said that her organization values gender integration and seeks to create a climate of equal opportunity.
“Since 2017, 20 percent of all the recruit intakes of the recently developed Jamaica National Service Corps were allocated to females. In the past, women were only recruited as needed or every three years,” Warrant Officer 2 Lewis said. “The JDF has steadily increased its ratio of women from 10 to 20 percent in the early years. The JDF was challenged in identifying the potential roles that women would play in the organization.”
Colombian Navy Commander Eduardo Meza Restrepo, CGFM Gender Office director, said the seminar was a great opportunity to allow military women and men to speak about a topic that is still uncommon among military units.
“The WPS topics are very important because it’s evident that they affect and impact our professional and personal lives,” said Lt. Cmdr. Meza. “It’s important to be aware, do a break, and analyze the importance of gender, women, defense, and security issues in the daily lives of women and men in the military forces, whether they are officers, NCOs, or soldiers.”
Gender equality is not about incorporating women in military institutions to comply with regulations, said Joint Command Sergeant Major Consuelo Díaz Álvarez, sergeant major of the Colombian Military Forces. It’s about believing in their capabilities in the fulfillment of the assigned mission.
“We have shared our stories, challenges, and solutions,” said Joint Command Sgt. Maj. Díaz at the conclusion of the seminar. “Our work does not end here. We must take those ideas and commitments beyond this seminar and turn them into tangible actions in our institutions and in our daily lives. Each of us, each of you, has that vital role to play in bringing about lasting change through leadership.”
“Our work does not end here. We must take those ideas and commitments beyond this seminar and turn them into tangible actions in our institutions and in our daily lives. Each of us, each of you, has that vital role to play in bringing about lasting change through leadership,” Joint Command Sergeant Major Consuelo Díaz Álvarez, sergeant major of the Colombian Military Forces
U.S. Army Command Sergeant Major Benjamin Jones, command senior enlisted leader at SOUTHCOM, said the enthusiasm for SEL WPS has been spreading throughout the region at a magnitude never seen before. The WPS seminar is the culmination of six previous SEL Professional Development program launched in March 2021.
“We must assist our commanders to harness 100 percent of the total force talent pool and not just 85 percent or 90 percent of it. We all know that [SEL] are the backbone of our military services,” Command Sgt. Maj. Jones said. “Senior enlisted women are living proof and a perfect example of how military women unite with the common purpose of leading change into the 21st century.”
The WPS event ended as Command Sgt. Maj. Jones invited participants to be leaders.
“What is your purpose as a leader? Are you the type of leader that accepts changes? Look around you; you are in the presence of change,” Command Sgt. Maj. Jones said. “With change, we as leaders must set the example with the 5Cs: compassion, courage, candor, competence, and commitment.”
“What is your purpose as a leader? Are you the type of leader that accepts changes? Look around you; you are in the presence of change. With change, we as leaders must set the example with the 5Cs: compassion, courage, candor, competence, and commitment,” U.S. Army Command Sergeant Major Benjamin Jones, command senior enlisted leader at U.S. Southern Command