U.S. Special Operations Command South (SOCSOUTH) and Colombia’s Joint Special Operations Command (CCOES, in Spanish) hosted a seminar to design a joint development program for noncommissioned officers (NCO) in special forces, in Bogotá, Colombia, July 8-14, 2018. The goal of the seminar was to create a syllabus to train NCOs and optimize their capacities to provide information to their superiors, paramount in decision-making.
“Analyzing the educational programs for NCOs who join the armed forces, compared to the needs of CCOES NCOs is very important, since the newly admitted personnel have different strategic, operational, and political mission requirements,” U.S. Army Sergeant Major Amir Álvarez, SOCSOUTH’s educational program coordinator, told Diálogo. “Our mission is to help identify what should be done to fulfill these requirements.”
A four-year program
The seminar led to the design of a four-year syllabus to begin February 2019 at the Commando Training Battalion at Tolemaida Military Fort in Cundinamarca, Colombia. The program will consist of two courses with 19 modules, including ethical decision-making, critical thinking, geopolitics, leadership, multinational operations, high management, strategic communication, negotiations and agreements, human rights, international humanitarian rights, and multi-domain operations.
The program will train 200 NCOs per year. SOCSOUTH, which will fund the course for the first two years, will initially provide instructors as well. Colombia will then take over instruction and funding.
The basic level consists of four two-week courses a year in February, May, June, and August for 25 students of the following ranks: staff sergeant, specialist, private first class, private, senior airman, airman first class, and class airman. The advanced level will have two 14-day courses in March and September for up to 25 students of the following ranks: command sergeant major, master sergeant, first sergeant, sergeant first class, chief master sergeant, and senior master sergeant.
SOCSOUTH NCOs, experts from the Joint Special Operations University (JSOU), U.S. Special Operations Command, and the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation (WHINSEC), served as advisors for the seminar. Twenty-five Colombian NCOs of all branches of the military training schools participated as well, learning about instruction requirements and analyzing improvements for CCOES NCOs.
The importance of NCOs
The training, operational, and tactical performance of NCOs assigned to CCOES led to the decision to develop a special training course. Officials identified a gap between the transformation posited for the armed forces and the need for NCOs assigned to special operations to be equipped with solid tools to better deliver information to commanders.
“The sergeant major gained importance within the armed forces. The higher ranks see us as references. They know we help them, advise them, and understand the forces’ structure,” Colombian Army Sergeant Major Mario Villamizar, command advisor at CCOES, told Diálogo. “In the last 12 years, the sergeant major rank has gained relevance; it’s an important rank within the unit. That’s why it’s important to train them in areas with a significant gap between training and information.”
To be able to advise a colonel or general, a command sergeant major or equivalent, must rely on the proper structure to process information and issue reports. “We want NCOs to understand all the effects and reach of an operation, to have the tools to determine if objectives were met,” Sgt. Maj. Álvarez said. “For that, we need to stimulate their critical thinking to understand national security policy [and] the geopolitical environment, and acquire useful knowledge to contribute during analysis.”
Participants’ experience with educational programs for NCOs assigned to special operations at JSOU and WHINSEC helped create a solid curricular network. “It’s first achieved by listing what the forces need, based on their own structure and reality. They then have to be able to sustain the whole program,” said U.S. Army Master Sergeant (R) Blake Edwards, head of the International Noncommissioned Officer Development Program at WHINSEC.
A solid program
After five days of sessions, local and international experts submitted modules and educational programs before Colombian Army Brigadier General Juan Pablo Forero Tascón, director of SOUTHCOM’s Exercises and Coalition Affairs division (J7/9). “One of the priorities of U.S. Navy Admiral Kurt W. Tidd, commander of Southern Command, is professional development. I’m pleased to be part of the syllabus development process,” Brig. Gen. Forero said. “I see that they designed a well-supported, necessary program, because there is a significant gap for Colombian NCO training on these issues, and this can affect the whole evolutionary process of the armed forces. We seek to have more professional sergeant majors; it’s something we owe them.”
Upon completing the four-year program, Colombian NCOs will be expected to have solid and wide-ranging knowledge. “We have two years to look at profiles, train our own instructors, and create our own sources of funding. The opportunity is huge, and we understand it. It’s the step our enlisted personnel waits for and needs,” Sgt. Maj. Villamizar concluded.