Only weeks after a dramatic hostage recovery operation that freed three U.S. military contractors, former Colombian presidential candidate Ingrid Betancourt, and 11 other Colombians, the Colombian Army played host to the 2008 Senior Enlisted Leaders Conference, July 21-25 , in Bogota.
Sergeants major from Barbados, Bahamas, Belize, Brazil, Chile, Ecuador, Guatemala, Honduras, Jamaica, Paraguay, Peru, St. Kitts and Nevis, Suriname, Trinidad and Tobago, Uruguay and the United States attended the conference, now in it's fourth year and co-sponsored by U.S. Army South. Participants shared information and experiences aimed at developing junior leaders and discussed different approaches to conducting military operations and training.
Diálogo magazine also attended the conference and spoke to several attendees and got their feedback and opinions on the conference:
Why is your country's participation in this conference so important?
Sgt. Juan Pastor (Uruguay) - It is important for our country to attend these events and learn about other militaries, how they work elsewhere and I think the way U.S. and Colombia work together is the best way for all armies.
Sgt. Enrique Valle (Honduras) - We have an opportunity to share with soldiers from other armies and learn from the experiences of many countries in Central and South America, and countries like Colombia and their experiences fighting in their internal conflict as well as the militaries in Central America with their peace keeping operations. This conference will serve us much to put practiced in Honduras since we are about to be deployed in peacekeeping missions for the United Nations.
Sgt. Mayor Torres (Paraguay) - It is a way to exchange experiences with other armies which also constitutes for our army as an analytical tool and different training methods that each country has. Then it adapts according to their own needs and we understand that all armies have basic common needs, except in some particular cases such as countries like Colombia which has such problems with the FARC. This conference builds on our knowledge and will be of benefit to our different training methods of our army.
SMC. Abisaíd Camarón (Colombia) – It's important because it strengthens the knowledge of different cultures of other armies and lets us analyze how we can improve the directions of non-commissioned officers and soldiers in the Colombian army. By doing so, we contribute to the development of our army by giving it more legitimacy, more professionalism, more credibility and acceptability to the local and international population. In respecting the rights of our citizens, we do no stop in fulfilling our constitutional mission to defend the sovereignty and loyal institutions, for the well-being.
What is the role of Sergeant Major in the army?
Sgt. Enrique Valle (Honduras) - Well, the sergeant becomes the strong support for others because they are the men who have great experience in their time of service and have been in contact for many years with soldiers and know their attitudes and this will help bridge communication between the commanders and the troops.
Sgt. Mayor Torres (Paraguay) - The NCOs are the backbone of the entire army, because this group is moving all the troops. Always at the forefront of battle with the troops, and the more knowledge the have, the better the success of the mission.
SMC. Carlos Sanchez Hernandez (Colombia) - The sergeant majors play a supremely important role, which is advising the commander. Verify that the policies are in compliance as well the welfare of the staff and training of the men.
SMC. Abisaíd Camarón (Colombia) - The sergeant majors have importance because of all the years they've put into service. We have knowledge, experience and that allows us to guide new personnel entering the force. Because we've already gone through a lot of obstacles, we can draw on our own experiences and show them the right path, the path to perfection so they don't have problems and are able to hold their head up high and can reach the level that we are at this time. The goal of the enlisted ranks is to make sergeant major and a sergeant major can impart knowledge, moral authority, and leadership, which is what we seek for our subordinates.
What was the most important issue at this conference?
Warrant Officer Cherrot Dean (Barbados) - The important one that stands out for me is the message from the Commander of the Colombian Army and that was knowledge of the job and leading by example and that's the important thing.
Sgt. Enrique Valle (Honduras) - Latin America and the U.S. share common threats. We have emerging threats such as human trafficking, drug trafficking, arms trafficking, organized crime, and that not only affects Central America, but also affects the U.S. Remember that most of the drugs that comes from these countries flows to the U.S. And many people who travel illegally travel to the U.S., and as countries that are part of the continent of Americas, we should be interacting to see how we can collaborate with others because the threats are common for everyone.
SMC. Carlos Sanchez Hernandez (Colombia) - The theme that I really liked because I didn't know too much about it, was about the different missions that other countries do to support world peace. Currently we have troops in the Sinai in support of these operations being done by the UN in order to preserve the peace and to achieve control in some countries that actually have problems with violence.
SMC. Abisaíd Camarón (Colombia) - All the issues discussed has been important. Because regardless, each of the countries are different with their own culture so we need to learn. And that is what's called the strengthening, the knowledge, learning and caring.