The International Comprehensive Action and Development Certification concluded after three weeks of instruction at the Colonel Hernán Acosta Mejía Air Base in Tegucigalpa, Honduras, September 28th. The course falls within the U.S.-Colombia Action Plan for Central America and the Caribbean (USCAP), a cooperation program among the countries of the hemisphere to strengthen regional security. Colombia manages the U.S. Southern Command (SOUTHCOM)-sponsored initiative.
Colombian Army officers taught the course to 26 students of the Honduran Armed Forces. To put their knowledge to practice, participants carried out a medical brigade in Ojojona municipality, Francisco Morazán department, a day before completing the course.
“Through these activities, we can strengthen the institutional image of the Armed Forces while contributing to the progress and development of locations lacking basic necessities,” said Colombian Army Captain Helber Quintero, instructor at the Colombian School of International Missions and Comprehensive Action. Cap. Quintero led the team of four Colombian instructors who taught the course. “The mission was to train Honduran service members to plan, prepare, execute, and evaluate campaigns to benefit communities,” he told Diálogo.
The group of 18 Honduran officers and eight recent non-commissioned officer graduates put together a team of doctors, dentists, psychologists, nutritionists, and hairdressers to provide free medical services, medicine, social assistance, and recreational activities to Ojojona inhabitants. Members of the Red Cross, the Permanent Contingency Commission of Honduras, the Honduran National Police and fire department, and other volunteers participated in the combined and interagency brigade. Municipal officials and members of the Honduran Ministry of Development and Social Inclusion joined the effort, contributing 500 bags of supplies.
“The activity had a large impact with the inhabitants,” Honduran Army Captain Gilberto Aguilar, a course participant, told Diálogo. “[Its success was due to] good instruction, the officers’ commitment, institutional integration, and the support of the community.”
Medicine and laughter
More than 1,400 people received medical and social assistance. Children enjoyed an afternoon snack and played in inflatable bounce houses. Soldiers, decked in clown outfits, brought laughter and smiles, and added to the fun with animal-shaped balloons.
“We had more attendees than expected,” said Capt. Aguilar, whose leadership and organizational skills made him top student in the course. “We brought [local] leaders and parents of local schoolchildren closer. We found that people want to help. Sometimes we only need someone to coordinate and help them get organized.”
Colombian instructors packed neon shoes, paint, and red noses in their luggage. According to Capt. Quintero, “The idea is to break with the traditional views civilians have of soldiers. To watch service members carry out such activities with children was something new. People value this, because they weren’t expecting to see soldiers share these experiences.”
Advocates and friends
Working with children is just one of several operational means to get closer to the population. The course included training activities focused on the elderly, agricultural practices, such as those the Colombian Army uses to substitute illegal crops with legal productive crops, and others.
“Raising military awareness means reaching people’s hearts with these activities, so they can see that a soldier is a friend to them,” Capt. Quintero said. “Unified actions impact the security of communities and the country’s stability in general.”
The Honduran Armed Forces carry out civil-military activities in different areas of the national territory throughout the year. On this occasion, however, the students of this course executed the Ojojona initiative on their own. In addition to medical services, parents handy with electricity helped repair the school’s power system and implemented a waste recycling system.
Thanks to the military students’ actions, the team was able to get about a dozen electrical appliances they raffled off to the population. “People left happy,” Capt. Aguilar said. “Some children stayed with us the whole day. We gave them an afternoon snack and they didn’t want us to leave.”
This is the trust-based relationship the course tries to foster among soldiers and their own communities. Upon completing the course, taught in Honduras for the first time, participants said they hope to strengthen ties through sports events, cultural programs, and other recreational activities, such as movies in the park.
Senior leaders of the Honduran Armed Forces thanked SOUTHCOM and Colombian representatives. The training, they said, will have a multiplying effect to fulfill one of the Armed Forces’ most important roles: mitigating critical needs of large parts of the population. Colombian Army Staff Sergeant Elkin Contreras, a course instructor, said the initiatives allow people to know that their soldiers “protect them with more than weapons.”