The Inter-American Air Forces Academy (IAAFA) offers a unique environment. Students receive an education focused on technical, operational, and professional instruction, while at the same time creating lasting alliances and strengthening solidarity among the U.S. Air Force and the air and security forces of partner nations in Latin America, the Caribbean.
U.S. Air Force Colonel Isaac Davidson, IAAFA commandant, is proud of the welcoming academic environment at the institution and works to continue to develop that environment. As commandant of the school since August 2017, he is responsible for military and technical education offered yearly (mostly in Spanish) to more than 900 students from government agencies and air forces of 21 Latin American and Caribbean countries. IAAFA opened its doors in 1943 at the Albrook Air Force Station in Panama at the request of then Peruvian Air Force General Fernando Melgar, then Minister of Aviation. It was the first regional academic institution of the air forces to offer its members a shared forum to learn, debate, and plan. Since then, the number of students continues to increase. IAAFA put on its finest to celebrate its 75th anniversary.
Col. Davidson spoke with Diálogo during the anniversary celebrations, which took place March 12th–16th in San Antonio, Texas. Among other events were the Third Western Hemisphere Exchange Symposium, a gala dinner, a flag parade, and an athletic competition for students. Col. Davidson talked about the importance of the symposium, the institution's 75 years, and the benefits it brings to air forces of the region.
Diálogo: The Third Western Hemisphere Exchange Symposium focused on four topics: humanitarian aid and natural disaster response; operations against drug trafficking; air space command and control; and aircraft upkeep and maintenance. What is the importance of these topics within the framework of IAAFA’s 75th anniversary celebration?
U.S. Air Force Colonel Isaac Davidson, IAAFA commandant: We have a very big challenge in the region, for example, humanitarian aid, natural disaster response, and aircraft upkeep and maintenance. These challenges are shared throughout the Americas. It’s important to know how to respond to a natural disaster as a country and as an air force, how to cooperate not only among armed forces, but also with civilian and non-governmental organizations, and how to work with neighboring countries. This symposium was to go over the lessons learned of the different countries that experienced natural disasters, such as the earthquakes in Haiti, Ecuador, and Mexico in 2010, 2016, and 2017.
Today, IAAFA plays an important role in handling these issues. The school provides a physical space and structure to learn. It’s an academic institution, and that’s what we do. The challenges change, and IAAFA responds to those challenges and changes. The point is not to meet the challenge, but to exceed the challenge.
Diálogo: What is the added value that IAAFA offers Latin American and Caribbean air forces as it turns 75?
Col. Davidson: By law, IAAFA offers training and education to military members throughout the Americas. However, it also offers education to other countries that are eligible to receive funding from the U.S. Department of State. The added value is that IAAFA fosters lasting friendships that allow opportunities for cooperation to be created. The impact that IAAFA has had in the past 75 years has been fundamental, especially because its students have forged lasting friendships. As a result of these friendships, it generated cooperation on security matters to the benefit of all the countries involved—the United States and the Americas in general. For example, there have been emergencies in different countries on multiple occasions, and the graduates and/or students find out that the person they need to contact in the other country was a graduate and/or a student at the same time. This completely changes the dynamic of the aid process, which, at the end of the day, benefits the countries themselves. This happens quite often with members of IAAFA. I am only repeating the words of generals and chiefs of the air forces, many of them IAAFA graduates, who say that the institution allowed them to have these friendships, along with the training and education they acquired, which create benefits and allow them to cooperate with each other whenever necessary.
Diálogo: What does it mean for you to be at the helm of IAAFA’s 75th anniversary celebration?
Col. Davidson: It’s a privilege that I truly do not deserve, but an opportunity that God has given me. With that in mind, I am a public servant just like the other members of IAAFA, since we are a great team. I am a public servant, and it comes from the heart. This is an opportunity that I wouldn't miss for the world. I didn't ask to come to IAAFA. Someone in the military hierarchy decided that, and I am very happy to be here today.
Diálogo: What are IAAFA's plans in the medium and long term?
Col. Davidson: In the medium term, we want to formally connect in an effort to set budgets for what IAAFA needs to support the objectives of U.S. Northern Command, U.S. Southern Command, and U.S. Central Command. We also want to train our instructors more so they can strengthen their capacities. In the long term, we want to dramatically transform the way we teach so that it becomes a continuous learning process that’s much more dynamic, interactive, and successful.
Diálogo: What kinds of educational changes are you referring to?
Col. Davidson: Imagine you're in a large room that has two interactive electronic panels, students have an electronic tablet, and all these devices can project images from the Internet or from any media, play a video, add notes, etc. All these means of information work at the same time. In the future, our education will be more virtual and will have a combination of online classes, in-person classes, and distance learning, and it will be continuous education. Traditionally, education was formatted so that teaching and learning happened in the classroom, and the lesson would begin at a specific time and end after an hour or two of class. This new learning model will be more continuous. Students will learn what they want to learn, when they want to, and where they want to. In other words, a student’s education won't end when the course is over and the student graduates. On the contary, the student will continue to have access to class material and new academic materials.
Diálogo: IAAFA has international instructors from partner nations. How is that exchange done?
Col. Davidson: Partner nations have the opportunity to have instructors be a part of IAAFA. It’s a process that begins through the U.S. Embassy with the Office of Security Cooperation. The application eventually goes to IAAFA to be evaluated and for a decision to be made. We received commissioned and non-commissioned officer instructors from various countries who usually participate in the institution for a period of two years. It’s very valuable to have international instructors because they contribute to the institution's mission.
Diálogo: What are the benefits of having U.S. Air Force students interacting with those of partner nation air forces?
Col. Davidson: There are many benefits because this interaction that happens at IAAFA means that we learn from each other—we learn from our partner nations, and they also learn from us. Founded on lasting friendships, IAAFA is a bridge to the Americas, and, for the Americas, IAAFA represents a bridge to the United States. IAAFA has been a bridge these past 75 years, as it has been for international security in the region.
Diálogo: What is your message to the other air forces in the region?
Col. Davidson: IAAFA is here for them, for our partner nations in the region. IAAFA’s name itself is proof of that. It’s a school that belongs to the Americas; it is the Inter-American Air Forces Academy. In this way, we are part of IAAFA, and each of our partner nations is part of IAAFA. This academy belongs to us so that we can educate ourselves, build our skills, and foster these fundamental long-term friendships.