By Marcos Ommati/Diálogo July 22, 2016 On a typically cold and clear winter day in the Southern Hemisphere, our group began a day filled with visits to Paraguayan Military institutions as part of a week-long period of events, workshops, conferences, and presentations comprising an exchange program between Non-Commissioned Officers (NCOs) from the United States and Paraguay. The first stop was a visit to the Peacekeeping Joint Operations Training Center, in Asuncion, where General Oscar Luis González, commander of the Paraguayan Army led the opening ceremony together with U.S. Army Colonel Barbara Fick, Liaison Officer with the Office of Security Cooperation at the U.S. Embassy-Paraguay. The U.S. NCOs also visited other institutions throughout the week, among which were the Logistics Command, the Military Academic Institute Command (CIME, for its Spanish acronym), the Engineering and Communications Command, and the NCO Training School of the Paraguayan Navy. Together with other partner nations inLatin America, Paraguay is taking part in a program focused on professionalizingand empowering the work of NCOs in the national armies. The program issponsored by U.S. Southern Command (SOUTHCOM) and has been in development sincethe beginning of 2016, under the direction of U.S. Army Sergeant Major KarimMella. Changing the Way of Thinking As in the case of partner nations such asEl Salvador and the Dominican Republic, where the NCO professionalizationprogram is already underway, Paraguay is on its way to adapt the current mindsetabout NCOs and the relationship between officers, sergeants, and future NCOs. “We must change the mindset amongstofficers, mainly, and among them, commanders in particular. From there, we mustcontinue to work to engrain the concept I am trying to instill in the officers’minds. An officer’s first responsibilityis taking care of the personnel under his command. Having said that, it isworth noting Paraguay has no differences other than financial resources. Socialand cultural conditions are very homogeneous among the population, and that isreflected in the Armed Forces. Paraguayan officers do not discriminate againstNCOs for any other reason than the different ranks. This is due to disciplineand the vertical nature of the hierarchies in every army and which must bemaintained. In that regard, and to begin with, we have that advantage, becauseI understand that in other countries this is not so,” said General Gonzálezto Diálogo. SM Mella considered it would be appropriate to conduct an exchange program where NCOs from the three services in the U.S. Military could meet their counterparts from Paraguay to better explain the change in mindset that took place in the United States over 200 years ago. “It’s not only important, it’s vital. More and more joint and combined operations and training are taking place throughout the Western Hemisphere. Also, consider a natural disaster, for example, the devastating earthquake in Haiti or the most recent event in Ecuador where multiple countries came together. When two or more nations come together to provide support, enlisted members naturally gravitate toward each other. By having the same attributes of professionalism, this group can align themselves more quickly, organize effectively, develop plans, and execute their mission,” said U.S. Air Force Sergeant Major Heriberto G. Diaz Jr., Superintendent at the Inter-American Air Forces Academy, located within Lackland Air Force Base in Joint Base San Antonio. For the U.S. NCOs that participated inthe exchange program, it was clear that in addition to contributing, they alsogrew personally with the experience. “I learned the importance of the NCOCorps within the Paraguayan Armed Forces and the high-level of professionalismin which they operate. The capability of their respective NCO Corps was trulyimpressive. I also learned that Paraguayans are truly gracious hosts and thatthey truly value friendships and partnerships,” commented U.S. Army CommandSergeant Major Anthony S. Torres, from the 470th Military Intelligence Brigade. But maybe the most appropriate person totalk about the topic of similarities and differences among NCOs from differentcountries is U.S. Marine Corps Sergeant Cesar Infante. His perspective in theexchange was illuminating because, with a Peruvian-American background, heserved in the Peruvian Armed Forces before moving to the United States, wherehe is now serving as chief of supplies at U.S. Marine Corps Forces, South.”I believe the level of professionalism of the NCOs from Latin Americancountries still has a way to go, because in many places, the NCO position isrelatively new. Currently, the armed forces of many countries are on their wayto becoming professionals, and I would say they are on the right path toachieving that goal.” Joint Work Just like their U.S. counterparts, theParaguayan NCOs that participated in the exchange program are members of allthe services. “Any relationship with servicemen from other countries isbeneficial, especially when it has to do with education,” said NCO AntonioDuarte from the 1st Air Force Brigade of Paraguay.” We have thisvision of improving the quality of education, from the beginning, with NCOs andsergeants, to the end of the curriculum. As soon as theycan have a training course for command NCOs, it will be a very valuableachievement,” said Command NCO Victor Alcaldes, from the Paraguayan Navy. It is also important to conduct expert exchangesin the United States so the program can be more comprehensive. For that reason,there are currently Paraguayan NCOs attending courses in the United States. “Iam a guest NCO at the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation (WHINSEC),in Fort Benning, Georgia. I know enough about the relationship between officersand NCOs in the United States. With this experience, I believe NCOs in Paraguayhave to have the opportunity to lead a platoon or a group to carry out theirduties, and have officers trust that they have what’s necessary and are readyto perform as such. They need that space so they can develop based oneducation. Education is vital for an individual’s development, and thereforefor institutions,” said Cavalry NCO of the Paraguayan Army Digno Galeano. Next Steps Continuity is very important for thesuccess of the partner nation NCO professionalization program. Specificallyregarding Paraguay, “the very next step is maintaining the information flowwith the Paraguayan Armed Forces and tracking their process,” said U.S. ArmyMaster Sergeant Luis O. Perez, Sergeant Major of Operations at WHINSEC. “We must maintain these open lines ofcommunication, and conduct a follow-up with our counterparts as soon aspossible in order to help them in the future.” All participants agree that the world haschanged, and the military service members from every country must adapt to facenew threats in the best possible way, therefore having a better prepared NCOcorps is a must. “Our enemies are not in front of us or behind us, but ina line. We now have missions in which small armed or unarmed groups causedamages everywhere. Having a dynamic NCO force that is prepared and isprofessional would help us reach further and carry out our missions in a moreprecise manner,” concluded Sgt. Major Mella.