They generally have separate lives in the air, on land and at sea, but on the soccer field in Honduras’ Command and General Staff School (ECEM, for its Spanish acronym), officers from the Honduran Army, Navy and Air Force mingle on the same turf. The afternoon grew cool on the hills of Ocotal, Honduras, a few kilometers from the center of Tegucigalpa, when the students of the 24th Command and General Staff Course took a break to devote themselves to sports. For weeks, they had been training to acquire the skills they will need once promoted to lieutenant colonel or commander.
Since the school’s founding in 1981, nearly a thousand officers have graduated from this center of military instruction. Although the ECEM continues to consolidate Honduran officers’ training for unit command and general staff functions, Infantry Colonel Víctor Manuel Núñez Durán, the school’s director, explained that the academic program has been modified over time to respond to ever-changing security threats in the isthmus. “Before, the conflicts we had were conventional, but as problems like terrorism, drug trafficking, and organized crime have risen, we’ve been adjusting all aspects of our doctrine and incorporating other topics of study, without neglecting our task, which is national defense,” he commented.
The school offers two different courses simultaneously: the Command and General Staff Course (CCEM) and the Higher Military Studies Course (CAEM). The CCEM is an 18-month mandatory course for majors or lieutenant commanders who seek to move up in their careers.
The CAEM, however, is a privilege exclusively for those who distinguish themselves as lieutenant colonels or commanders; only the top 10 course applicants and the top five of the previous CCEM class are chosen to attend the 37-week course. Other requirements include an impeccable military record as well as optimal physical and psychological conditions.
Commander Héctor Tercero López, one of the CAEM students, told Diálogo that the dynamic and hands-on nature of the course keeps them highly motivated. He explained that since the Honduran Constitution stipulates the Army’s participation in peace, humanitarian aid, and rescue missions, students not only receive theoretical training on these topics, but are also assigned practice scenarios to plan to support Hondurans or other nations’ people in the event of a disaster.
During their time at the school, the officers also have the opportunity to earn a diploma in military education and pedagogy taught by academics from Honduras’ Defense University, and a master’s degree in business administration from the National Autonomous University. This, the director emphasized, is something that differentiates ECEM from other schools of its kind in Central America.
Although ECEM is located at the top of a hill in a beautiful rural area of the Honduran capital, its vision reaches beyond the country’s borders. Recently, academics from the Center for Hemispheric Defense Studies, under the umbrella of the U.S. National Defense University, visited ECEM classrooms to offer a three-day workshop on gangs and drug trafficking. “We have firsthand experience with this issue; they own the technology to create simulation scenarios that motivate discussion and the search for solutions,” said Infantry Lieutenant Colonel Mario Bueso Caballero, head of ECEM’s academic department.
Another key subject for future graduates in their missions as high-ranking Army officers is international humanitarian law and human rights. According to Col. Núñez Durán, teaching respect for these principles is essential to reinforce the moral, ethical and professional guidelines that are basic in exercising command and performance at all levels of the Armed Forces. ECEM students agree that one of the most significant aspects of their time at the school is the opportunity to get to know colleagues from different branches of the Armed Forces, something that is achieved through projects to support the local population as well as afternoon soccer games. “I’ve done all my work in the Air Force, but here, while we’re training to command the Armed Forces, we share with leaders from other branches, become friends, and we develop the same mindset,” said Air Force Major Marco Tulio González Aguilar, a student in the 24th Command and General Staff Course. This is precisely the spirit of the school’s motto, repeated in each classroom: “To unify action.”