Diálogo spoke with U.S. Army Colonel John Dee Suggs, commandant of the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation (WHINSEC), during his visit to U.S. Southern Command’s headquarters in Doral, Florida.
Diálogo: The mission of WHINSEC is to be the premiere educational training institute in the Western Hemisphere for security and defense. How are you working to accomplish this goal?
U.S. Army Colonel John Dee Suggs, Commandant of WHINSEC: Our job as a school is to educate and train. Our obligation to our profession, to the American people, and to the people of Latin America is to develop ethical leaders. We do this as a U.S. Army school, under the U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command, but because we’re educating officers and noncommissioned Officers (NCOs) from Latin America, the fruits of our labor are felt by U.S. Southern Command (SOUTHCOM) and U.S. Northern Command (NORTHCOM) in their engagements with our hemispheric partners.
Diálogo: What is WHINSEC’s relevance for partner nations of the Western Hemisphere?
COL. Suggs: WHINSEC has no relevance as a “stand alone” institute. First and foremost, WHINSEC is a part of the U.S. Armed Forces, institutions that have trained ethical leaders for over 200 years. It is the collective knowledge of thousands of ethical professionals that makes us relevant in efforts to build ethical leaders. I would be mistaken if I didn’t point out that almost half of our instructors come from the security forces of our regional partners. We are exponentially more relevant with the inclusion of their history and experiences. We are not the United States trying to lecture or teach the world. We are an international teaching team working by, with, and through our partner nations’ security forces.
Diálogo: How does WHINSEC update its curriculum to meet the new security cooperation demands of partner nations of the region?
COL. Suggs: WHINSEC brings together SOUTHCOM, NORTHCOM, the U.S. Department of State (DOS), and civilian law enforcement agencies. We seek to annually analyze and evaluate with these stakeholders the value and appropriateness of our courses. These are then certified by the U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command for academic efficacy, and then by our congressionally mandated board of visitors to ensure that we are meeting Congress’ intent in regard to human rights and democratic values.
Diálogo: What types of educational changes is the institution working on?
COL. Suggs: NORTHCOM and SOUTHCOM are asking us to refocus some of our tactical training. One example would be to not only focus on demining when training engineers, but to also focus on collapsed structure rescue for humanitarian assistance and disaster relief type operations. This is a constant process and it takes into account the needs and desires of our hemispheric partners.
Diálogo: How does WHINSEC promote gender integration?
COL. Suggs: We have done an excellent job in promoting gender integration in our tactic and medical courses. We see the integration of females, especially police forces in our classrooms. However, more than 50 percent of the population is female. Until we approach 50 percent in our classrooms, we have not done enough. Security forces are historically male dominated but that must change.
Ignoring 50 percent of the population is not only uninformed, it’s a criminal misuse of human resources. We have worked hard with NORTHCOM to sponsor events that seek to educate on this issue. Our annual Women, Peace and Security Conference streamed live on our WHINSEC Facebook page [February 5, https://facebook.com/WHINSEC]. I’m going to try to get some additional funds from SOUTHCOM and DOS money next year  to run the event in a university setting.
Diálogo: What are the benefits of having U.S. military students interacting with their counterparts from partner nations?
COL. Suggs: U.S. security forces gain as much from our interactions with our partners, as our partners do. The U.S. has not cornered the market on intelligence, bravery, professionalism, or ideas. Like U.S. Navy Admiral Craig S. Faller, commander of SOUTHCOM, said, (and I’m paraphrasing), we touch these people in every domain: land, sea, air, space, cyber, and most importantly we share the same values. Our job at WHINSEC is to make the hemisphere a better place, one ethical leader at a time. Our interactions with our partners don’t just make our partners better. They make us better and more ethical leaders as well.