BOGOTA, Colombia (Nov. 30, 2015) -- Army commanders and senior leaders from 18 nations in the Americas converged in Bogota, Colombia, to participate in the Conference of American Armies, or CAA, Commanders Conference, Nov. 17-20.
"Since the first meeting of the hemisphere's Army commanders in 1960, our armies have debated, analyzed and exchanged ideas and experiences related to matters of defense," said U.S. Army Chief of Staff Gen. Mark A. Milley during closing remarks at the Colombian military's National Training Center in Tolemaida, Nov 20. "Our cooperation over the past 55 years has promoted regional security and the democratic development of our member countries. This conference provides our armies the opportunity to increase cooperation and integration; establish the processes to increase interoperability; and most importantly, identify the topics of mutual interest in defense-related matters to develop solutions that are beneficial to us all."
Chairmanship of the CAA transfers to a different member nation every two years with the United States accepting it from Colombia in February 2016 - hosting it for the first time in 24 years. During each two-year cycle, specialized conferences and exercises take place in various countries in the Americas to support the cycle's theme.
"The Colombian army has led a highly successful cycle, which has made significant progress on practical initiatives in disaster response, counter-improvised explosive devices, geographical information systems and interagency operations," said Bob Pike, Army South CAA action officer.
Chilean army Gen. Humberto Oviedo said he sees the benefit of attending this final event of the cycle - the CAA Commander's Conference, where each Army's senior leader or representative is updated on the activities that took place within that cycle.
"It's important to have a chance for real contact with all the leaders from the different country's armies," said Oviedo, who is a graduate of the U.S. Army War College. "I think this is most important and the best kind of way to build confidence if you know the person. Secondly, to have a chance to talk about topics that we are so involved with like different threats and also to know the capabilities that each country has so we can integrate and cooperate in different circumstances."
CAA membership includes 20 member armies, five observer armies and two international military organizations - the Conference of Central American Armed Forces and the Inter-American Defense Board.
During this final event of the 31st CAA cycle, senior Army leaders met to discuss and approve a series of accords, which summarize the work accomplished within the past two years. They also approved the theme, objectives and schedule for the upcoming, U.S.-hosted cycle that will guide the CAA as an organization throughout the next two years. "Interagency operations in response to emerging challenges" is the upcoming theme.
In addition to hosting Army presentations on highlights from the cycle's conferences and exercises, the leaders held a private session and conducted bilateral meetings that allowed them to discuss topics while building each other's trust and confidence. Cultural events and social engagements during the conference included senior leaders' spouses and a dynamic Colombian army demonstration that highlighted some of its unique capabilities capped off during the week.
Top Army leaders, their spouses and staff attended the military demonstrations to observe elite Colombian soldiers showcasing air assault capabilities and rotary-wing aircraft in Tolemaida, the home of Colombian army aviation, initial flight training, and air assault and special forces battalions.
During his closing remarks, Maj. Gen. Alberto Mejia, Colombian army commander, thanked Milley and Maj. Gen. K.K. Chinn, Army South commander, for their support and for the U.S. government's continued commitment to the Colombian army to secure peace and end its 50-plus year war against the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, known as the FARC.
Mejia, who also served as the secretary general of the CAA for the past two years, provided a patriotic message for the hundreds of new Colombian army recruits, who were also there observing the military demonstration.
"We offer you today an army that has strength, trust, confidence; an army that has principals, values and discipline, and one that's constantly in the process of change," Mejia said looking at his guests. He turned toward his soldiers in formation and in the audience. "You are the symbol of strength. I always know that the Colombian flag will be raised and waving because of you. As I represent you, I leave full of pride and satisfaction."
Milley thanked Mejia for hosting this year's conference and said he and his staff established a "very high standard for the next host." He emphasized the U.S. Army's commitment to partnering with the armies of the Americas to secure and maintain peace in the hemisphere and he cited shared security challenges ranging from transnational organized crime, terrorism and mass migrations.
"By sharing our experiences and knowledge, we help strengthen our ability to combat the challenges facing our countries and our armies. Our collective security requires collective participation and a collective effort," Milley said.