Pace: Troops are 'Making a Difference' in Colombia
January 22, 2007
BOGOTA, Colombia (American Forces Press Service, Jan. 19, 2007) - The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff today praised U.S. troops serving here, acknowledging the part they have played in helping the Colombian military confront the challenges it faces.
Gen. Peter Pace visited about 150 of the almost 500 American Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen, Marines and Coast Guardsmen stationed here to thank them for their service and congratulate them on the strides they have helped the Colombians make.
Noting that it's been almost three years since his last visit here, Pace marveled at improvements that have taken place. "The change in the capacity of the Colombian armed forces and all that has happened here is truly remarkable," he told the troops who gathered in a courtyard at the U.S. Embassy compound.
"You all should take pride in knowing that you have helped them," he told the group, most of them members of the Military Group that trains and advises the Colombian military and the Defense Attache Office. "They have done the work, there is no doubt about that, and they deserve all the credit. But I hope each of you takes pride in your part in helping them be as successful as they have been."
Asked during a short question-and-answer session about the impact of the new Congress on the mission here, Pace said he believes there's bipartisan congressional support for the mission here and a recognition of its importance to the region and the United States.
"I think all the hard work that Colombia has done on its own to get to where it is, is a track record that stands on its own merit when we talk to Congress," he said.
"Fundamentally, the strength of Colombian democracy impacts the strength of our own democracy, and it is in our own self-interest to help our friends down here."
The troops lined up one by one to shake hands with Pace and receive his personal coin, but also to share their personal role in the military mission here. Pace also chatted and posed for photos with members of Marine Security Guard Detachment Bogota and presented a Joint Service Commendation Medal to Army Chief Warrant Officer 2 Alvaro Flores and a Joint Service Achievement Medal to Staff Sgt. Santarra Scott.
"This is a great group of people doing a great mission and a very important mission," Flores said. "I firmly believe in what we are doing here."
The other servicemembers told Pace they, too, believe they're making a difference for Colombia.
"We're definitely doing a good thing here," said Marine Gunnery Sgt. They Faber, who has spent the last year here training Colombian riverine teams. "We are slowly, by example, providing a bit of an example for the Colombians."
A big emphasis, Faber said, is reinforcing the importance of continual, ongoing training -- a concept he said is not fundamental to the Colombian military as it is for U.S. troops. "We are trying to develop a culture of training and continuing actions," he said.
Army Maj. Shane Tarrant, a Special Forces officer who serves as a liaison to Colombia's special operations units, said U.S. trainers here are sharing skills ranging from basic infantry skills to logistics with their Colombian counterparts.
But the training is a two-way street, he said, because Colombians have been dealing with a criminal insurgency for decades and have learned some important lessons they, too, can share. "We're learning from the tactics they're using, and we take that and see where we can apply it in other theaters," he said.
Army Staff Sgt. Luz Erribarren, operations noncommissioned officer in charge in the Defense Attache Office, calls the work the U.S. military is doing here "very, very important" to Colombia's future. "We're providing training to the people so they can better face their problems," said Erribarren, a native of Peru. "It feels good to be a part of it and to see their appreciation because their lives are changing as a result."
Army Chief Warrant Officer 3 Gerson Hernandez, an aviation maintenance manager here, said he takes a personal pride in the capability the U.S. military has been bringing to Colombia during the past six years. A Colombian native, Hernandez said he remembers growing up amid police corruption and violence inflicted by narcoterrorists.
"This is my home, and I know that what we are doing here is helping change things," he said. "For (the Colombian military) to have the right equipment, the right training and to be able to sustain themselves is what we are working toward, and it is making a difference."