The Salvadoran Armed Force (FAES, in Spanish) thrives at discovering female talent and has seen more women join and reach key positions in all its branches. Precision, determination, courage, and tenacity are the traits women officers, who perform daily in battalions and military units, share.
“More and more women are going through the recruiting process to join FAES,” said FAES Army Colonel Mario Argueta, commandant of the Capitán General Gerardo Barrios Military School. “Candidates who make it through the process are trained to work in the same roles as men. Our education is not focused on gender, but on skill development.”
Out of the country
In the past, Salvadoran women who wished to start a military career had to undergo physical and knowledge recruitment tests, and would then be sent to the Heroic Military School of Mexico, where they would graduate to start a military career in their country. The first woman to wear the Salvadoran military uniform was Adriana Herrera de Hayem in 1969, after graduating from Mexico’s Military School of Nursing. In 1996, when she led the Salvadoran Military Hospital, she was promoted to colonel.
In 2000, FAES started to admit women, and in 2006, the first 16 female service members graduated. Of those, 10 officers were promoted to the rank of major on December 31, 2018. It was the first group of women with that rank.
“At FAES, we see women as equals in terms of opportunities,” Salvadoran Minister of Defense David Munguía Payés told Diálogo. “This improves their conditions and their position.”
In March 2018, Salvadoran Air Force (FAS) Major Sandra Hernández, one of the recently promoted officers, became the first female pilot in Torogoz III, the second helicopter air contingent deployed with the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali. Her task was to conduct reconnaissance flights in places prone to terrorist attacks and escort logistics convoys moving between towns.
“They always demanded the same of me as of the men. They respect and value my work without making any gender difference,” said Maj. Hernández. “The presence of women in the military contributes to a high level of acceptance and trust among citizens, and I was able to observe this with the people of Mali.”
There are currently 60 female candidates for a career with the Salvadoran military, while more than 800 female graduates work in the naval, engineering, artillery, aeronautics, and other fields. “A woman is appointed to a position not because she is a woman, but because she has the qualities and skills to perform successfully,” Col. Argueta said. “Only the special forces don’t have women, but it’s because no one so far chose to face the physical demands required for the job.”
Other women stood out for their achievements in the last decade. In 2016, FAS Aviator Pilot María Elena Mendoza, then a first lieutenant, was the first Central American woman to be certified as a combat pilot. Currently a captain, she is part of FAS Group, a specialized team tasked to patrol the skies to safeguard the Salvadoran territory.
The group’s mission is to identify aircraft criminal organizations use to smuggle drugs and other goods into the United States and other countries in the region. “The learning process has been demanding, with high standards, but my passion for detail was my best ally,” said Capt. Mendoza. “Becoming a combat pilot is proof that the doors are open in all fields we aim to reach.”
“SOUTHCOM [U.S. Southern Command] is aware of the effectiveness of teams with men and women,” said U.S. Navy Admiral Kurt W. Tidd, former SOUTHCOM commander, at the III Women in Military and Security Conference, held in November 2018. “We cannot waste that great talent. Character, competition, team work—that’s what we need to do to meet the security challenges of the 21st century.”