U.S., South American NCOs Gather in Buenos Aires to Discuss Common Challenges

The Senior Enlisted Leader Seminar took place during the South American Defense Conference 2018.
Eduardo Szklarz/Diálogo | 9 September 2018

International Relations

Argentina hosted the Senior Enlisted Leader Seminar 2018, carried out in conjunction with the South American Defense Conference 2018 in Buenos Aires, August 27th-29th. (Photo: Eduardo Szklarz, Diálogo)

Argentina hosted the Senior Enlisted Leader Seminar 2018, bringing together service members of 11 countries in Buenos Aires, August 27th-29th. The event, held during the South American Defense Conference (SOUTHDEC) 2018, took place in the Argentine capital for the first time. Leaders gathered under the theme, South American Military Contributions to Global Peace. U.S. Southern Command (SOUTHCOM) sponsored both initiatives.

Noncommissioned officers (NCO) from Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, Guyana, Paraguay, and Peru, in addition to Argentina and the United States, attended the event. Canada and Spain were present as observers.

“This seminar is very important to strengthen relations among our nations. It also shows us what NCOs can do for their countries and armed forces,” U.S. Marine Corps Sergeant Major Bryan Zickefoose, SOUTHCOM’s senior enlisted leader, told Diálogo. “We gathered all over the Americas, and this event continues to grow with every edition. Argentina is one of our strongest partners, and the fact that it’s the host this year strengthens the seminar even more.”

Sgt. Maj. Zickefoose was pleased with the dynamic of the presentations. “The experience was wonderful. All participants were very outgoing about asking questions,” he said. “Everybody wants to know more about the reality of other countries.”

Social networks

Argentine Navy Master Chief Petty Officer Enzo Cornacchini highlighted that the seminar was held in conjunction with SOUTHDEC 2018, which gathered officers from participating nations. “The conference has been around for years, but was always dedicated to Joint Chiefs of Staff. In 2017, when Peru hosted the event, we had the opportunity to work with a parallel schedule for NCOs,” Master Chief Petty Officer Cornacchini said. “This space for debate is good, because we definitely all have similar problems and challenges. It’s important to know how each of us tries to solve them.”

One of the challenges addressed was social networks. Service members from different countries shared their way to handle new technologies. “Our youth has a very different mindset than ours. We entered [the force] at least 35 years ago, when we had to go around the block to a phone booth to make a call. Now any young person can take a photo, and at times isn’t conscious of the risk an innocent image can cause,” Master Chief Petty Officer Cornacchini said. “A man who takes an innocent photo posing near a boat might reveal features of a military unit. As such, the idea is to raise people’s awareness about the risks of exposing photographic material in social media, which might compromise the armed forces.”

Peacekeeping operations

On the first day of presentations, participants addressed South American military contributions to peacekeeping operations. “We presented the facilities we have, our team of instructors, how training is structured for peacekeeping missions, and what were the most important missions in which we participated,” Master Chief Petty Officer Cornacchini said. “Argentina has a lot of experience in the field. For instance, we currently have personnel deployed in Cyprus. And we had NCOs working in the FARC’s [Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia] disarmament process in Colombia.”

Sgt. Maj. Zickefoose stressed the outstanding collaboration between South American countries and the United Nations. “NCOs are important to help carry out peacekeeping operations and mentor other service members. They are the basis, the forces’ backbone. Without them, it’s impossible to develop a professional military force,” he said. “With NCOs such as Argentina’s, the country has a professional military force to help fix things and cooperate with other partners in peacekeeping operations.”

U.S. Marine Corps Sergeant Major Bryan Zickefoose (center), senior enlisted leader at SOUTHCOM, and Argentine Navy Master Chief Petty Officer Enzo Cornacchini (right), co-hosted the event. (Photo: Eduardo Szklarz, Diálogo)

The second day focused on NCOs’ studies in schools of Argentina and the United States. “In Argentina, the three forces have different academies, with different curricula as well. So we showed how each of the three forces deals with education and our projects to improve the curriculum and optimize military education.” Master Chief Petty Officer Cornacchini said. 

NCOs: the forces’ backbone

Colombian Army Command Sergeant Major Argemiro Posso, senior enlisted leader at the Joint Command, stressed the importance of South American NCOs’ professional development for SOUTHCOM. “This helps raise awareness about proper training and education for the NCO corps, so we can fulfill our missions under the leadership of our officers,” Command Sgt. Maj. Posso said, adding that the seminar serves as a platform to remind partner nations about NCOs’ professional training.

“In Colombia, NCOs are part of the backbone of our institution. We see ourselves like a biological body: Our officers are the brain; we are the backbone; our soldiers are the upper and lower limbs,” Command Sgt. Maj. Posso said. “Under their leadership, our officers tell us what they want, so that with our limbs, we can fulfill the mission.”​​​​​​​ 

“Jointness”: Coordinated action

According to Command Sgt. Maj. Posso, the 2018 edition of the seminar stressed the importance of integrating forces to confront common, transnational threats. “What I emphasize is that ‘jointness’; to make the Army, Navy, and Air Force understand that if we come together, we can be successful in fulfilling our duties against these threats,” he said.

To illustrate the concept, Command Sgt. Maj. Posso used an example U.S. Army Command Sergeant Major John W. Troxell, senior enlisted advisor to the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, taught him. “He used to say it was very difficult to fight with one finger. One finger is the Army. Another finger is the Navy. And another finger is the Air Force. The fourth finger, in some countries, is the Police or National Guard. If we join those fingers, we have a fist. And with the fist we can hit [the threat] hard,” he said. “That ‘jointness’ is what allowed us, in Colombia, to be successful in confronting the FARC. We understood that if we integrated our capabilities jointly, without losing the identity of each force, we could be the right fist.”

Human rights

Chilean Air Force Chief Master Sergeant Sady Tarque Vega, senior enlisted leader of the Chilean Joint Chiefs of Staff, said the seminar delved on human rights based on the different armed forces’ perspectives. He also pointed to discussions on the impact information and communications technology (ICT) has on the security of military operations. “Nowadays everything is computerized: ICT, social media, cyberattacks. This subject was addressed here, so we could figure out ways to improve security,” Chief Master Sgt. Vega told Diálogo.

“We also discussed leadership, technical military careers, gender equality, and how to strengthen joint culture in the lower ranks,” Chief Master Sgt. Vega said. “In other words, the person being trained should know that their actions, whether in the Navy, Army, or Air Force, converge in joint action at the national level, and in combined action at the international level—that’s joint culture.”

For Brazilian Navy Master Chief Petty Officer José Nascimento, the conference served as a platform to exchange experiences about NCOs’ leadership. “Based on their experience, NCOs need to be leaders by example. They should carry out their role based on what officers indicate and set the example for their subordinates,” Master Chief Petty Officer Nascimento said.

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