For the first time, the Colombian War College (ESDEGUE, in Spanish) counts with a group of 14 line officers, all women, in its 2018 General Staff Course (CEM, in Spanish). In the future, they will be able to take different positions as members of the General Staff and commanders of tactical military units.
“Nine female officers from the Colombian Air Force (FAC, in Spanish) and five from the Colombian Navy, who for the past 20 years have attended training schools to train as service members specializing in telecommunications, logistics, and flight, are part of the first mixed course as a requirement to obtain the rank of lieutenant colonel or commander,” Colombian Army Major General Francisco Javier Cruz Ricci, director of ESDEGUE, told Diálogo. “This is a historic milestone.”
For a year, the women officers will receive comprehensive training alongside 378 male service members from the Navy, Army, and FAC. The female participants were invited to shore up their professional skills and become well-rounded leaders, commanders, administrators, humanists and members of the General Staff, with a shared understanding of military art.
“Being a part of this first mixed course is a great experience,” Lieutenant Commander Marcela Ramírez Ramos, a member of the Colombian Navy Logistics Corps, told Diálogo. “We were well received not only from the academic command but also our male colleagues, who realized we came here to further our careers, and that we hold positions and carry out activities our armed forces demand.”
The course’s military academic program is focused on the nature of war, basics of strategic logic, national security and defense, general military strategy, doctrine and force operations, military operational strategy, applied legal theory, administration, political process, foreign policy and geopolitics, and regional and global security. The women will also participate in seminars and research projects.
“The selected candidates had to endure the rigors of combat, operations planning and logistics support, [like] any male career officer,” Maj. Gen. Cruz said. “These women are fit to take on the challenges of this academic environment. They are officers who are even ahead of some with higher rank.”
“I thank God and my 20-year trajectory. In November 2017, I was called to take the exams for the lieutenant colonel course,” Major Liliana Vergara, FAC’s first woman combat pilot, told Diálogo. “These years have been full of challenges, but we did the course so we could be leaders with a broader vision, in accordance with the situation in the country.”
“The women officers we become within the military is a good addition that allows the institutions to be successful. Our contribution is positive because we create an additional role in something that only men did before,” Lt. Cmdr. Ramírez said. “The academic debate and the viewpoints that women bring to learning and the classes are a major advantage and a great plus that [officers] and teachers see as something spectacular,” added Maj. Gen. Cruz.
Ever since women entered the armed forces, they have opened doors to subsequent generations, not only gaining ground in the military sphere, but also showing the world they have the same skills as men. “It is difficult to be a woman in any sphere because Colombia is still sexist for the most part,” Maj. Vergara said. “In many areas, such as salaries and employment opportunities, we have not achieved gender equality.”
As of today, around 110 women train and build skills in ESDEGUE’s different programs of study. The military academy has 57 international agreements and 42 national-level agreements signed for student and teacher exchanges, mostly women. The Colombian Armed Forces now have a female major general, an expert in the area of law, and a female brigadier general as the director of the Military Hospital.
“This is a path that opens little by little with the work that each of us do. We cannot expect it to happen overnight because this is a step-by-step process,” Lt. Cmdr. Ramírez said. “In the Navy, we have women in every role except in the Marine Corps. There, we serve only in logistical support.”
VICA and plans
Founded in 1909, ESDEGUE faces a volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous (VICA, in Spanish) situation as it seeks a dynamic teaching and training process for military leaders and national security and defense strategists. “We are facing a VICA scenario in all areas of powers. Building strategic leaders with the ability to make decisions in a VICA environment is a major challenge,” Maj. Gen. Cruz said. “We must be ready for whatever comes our way.”
“A military woman shouldn’t lose her essence as a woman; her strength, discipline, and the responsibility with which she must perform every job are the most important aspects,” Lt. Cmdr. Ramírez said. “As an example, she can motivate other women and have a partner, regardless of their gender, to support you to complete the assigned mission in any scenario.”
ESDEGUE has two short-term plans for the next two years. The first is to create an accredited doctorate program in Security, Defense and Development, slated for the end of 2019. The second is to put the school and its courses online to offer new opportunities with the usual distinction of the course.
“An essential factor that will make it stronger has to do with internationalizing,” Maj. Gen. Cruz concluded. “Next year, ESDEGUE will receive officers from Korea, Spain, and Italy.”