Technical Assistance Group Trains Panamanian Security Forces
By Julieta Pelcastre/Diálogo October 20, 2017From August 28th to September 20th, 70 fourth-year cadets from the National Police of Panama’s Dr. Justo Arosemana Officer Candidate School (ESOPOL, per its Spanish acronym) received leadership training through a course taught by five experts from U.S. Southern Command’s (SOUTHCOM) Technical Assistance Field Team (TAFT). The training was held at the facilities of the Panamanian National Police’s National Training Directorate in Panama City. “This training is a condensed course from what is taught at the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation[WHINSEC located at Ft. Benning, Georgia],” Colonel Jorge Luis Escobar, the director of Training for Panama’s National Police, told Diálogo. “Together with the TAFT team from the U.S. Embassy in Panama, we adapted the leadership course in 2015.” “This course helps bolster our capacity to fulfill our leadership duties in defense or national security operations, above all, due to the high level of professional qualifications and experience that it offers in this field, as well as the knowledge it provides on operational personnel management,” Second Lieutenant Erick Yoiner Guillen González, of the Cadet Battalion at ESOPOL and a student in the course, told Diálogo. National Police students as well as members of the Panamanian Air and Naval Service, the National Border Service, and the International Defense Service received training on leadership, exercises, ground navigation, and first aid. In addition, they trained on basic procedures for customs and immigration, personal defense, communications, weapons maintenance, and day and nighttime firing on a firing range. “In the course, the students learned to identify problems that a commander might have in addressing a difficult situation with his group, and they also identified rivalries within a tight-knit group, learning how the commander should manage that under pressure,” Col. Escobar said. “The students were taught under a lot of pressure.” Participants planned small operations to protect a larger unit. In the General José Domingo Espinal Counterterrorism Unit, they simulated the takeover of a facility by terrorists, during which they neutralized the criminal suspects in order to protect the lives of hostages. “Our task and the way we do our operations must not disrupt the regular lives of the people or impact their rights,” Col. Escobar stressed. People need to feel that our uniform is a guarantee of liberty, not oppression.” ESOPOL indicated that from January to September 2017, more than 1,263 new police officers have graduated from the institution and 700 additional students are in the process of being trained. “The interaction with the TAFT group’s tactical personnel was professional, since they have an organizational doctrine of always adhering to laws and regulations, and those aspects are worthy of imitation,” 2nd Lt. Guillen noted. Reinforcing the teachings at WHINSEC As part of their academic training, when they finished the leadership course, the cadets did a tour of studies in the United States and Canada for approximately one month, in order to reinforce what they had learned from the TAFT group. From September 23rd to October 15th participants were at WHINSEC to learn how the structure of the U.S. Army functions, about small unit operations and how to coordinate with a larger operation. This reinforcement included a leadership course in operational leadership training, with a visit to the Paratrooper Unit at Fort Benning, Georgia, in order to learn about the organization and how to use paratroopers in tactical operations. During their stay, they also visited the Pentagon, the Inter-American Defense Board, and U.S. police departments. “This educational trip gave us the chance to learn that the institutions that prioritize the needs of citizens, in the full knowledge of national, regional, and global realities, are better equipped to provide people a first-class level of civil security and services,” 2nd Lt.Guillen said. “This training is one-of-a-kind in our region. No other police force in our region sends students to the United States,” Col. Escobar noted. “We are trying to provide the highest level of education, getting people to see that the best Panamanians are those who enter the arms profession.” After reinforcing their learning, the students will carry out a set of activities prior to their graduation as second lieutenants and being deployed across the nation to complete the missions assigned to them. Afterwards, they will take courses to specialize in the area of service that has been assigned to them. Better training for national security Since 2015, the Panamanian government has also been teaching a leadership course to second lieutenants, first lieutenants, and captains who have graduated from ESOPOL in order to enable them to build their teamwork. The Panamanian government expects graduates to complete this leveling process by the end of 2018. “It’s important that different generations come away with a shared set of knowledge due to changing contexts. National security and defense have been crucial to this nation over the last seven years,” Col. Escobar said. “There is a real motivation by TAFT to work with Panama’s National Police.” “Bolstering all aspects of police service can help Panama project itself toward a future in which it is a pioneer in developing a culture of international cooperation on security issues,” 2nd Lt. Guillen said. “TAFT’s military and police training for Panamanian students is the result of a comprehensive and fraternal relationship for reinforcing our completion of missions,” Col. Escobar concluded.