With the transfer of colors and a handshake, the U.S. Army assumed authority of the Conference of the American Armies during a ceremony on Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall, Va., Feb. 2.
During the ceremony, Colombian Gen. Alberto Mejia, the Colombian Army commander, transferred his CAA presidency to Gen. Mark Milley, the Army chief of staff. The transfer marked the end of Colombia's two-year lead as the U.S. will oversee the CAA mission and objectives through 2017.
Speaking to the Soldiers and guests present, Mejia reflected upon his experience as the CAA president and his role in the transfer ceremony.
"It is an honor to be here," said Mejia. "It is one of my greatest privileges in my military career."
The Conference of American Armies is an International Military Organization comprised of 20 member armies from the Caribbean, Central, North and South American countries, five observer armies and two international military organizations and was founded in 1960 as a forum for the exchange of ideas and experiences among the American Armies. It is a forum for chiefs of armies to come together and discuss issues of mutual interest in order to contribute to hemispheric security, protection against threats to peace, democracy and freedom and to enhance interpersonal relationships.
Mejia emphasized the importance of the interpersonal relationships during his speech.
"I want to tell you that over all these years as a Special Forces officer I've had the great opportunity to work with great American Soldiers, men and women. We share the same values and principles of democracy. They have helped us to get to where we are today."
CAA is made up of and run by the Armies of the Western Hemisphere with authorization from their respective governments and operates independently under its own by-laws approved by the member Army commanders.
The CAA leadership, known as the Permanent Executive Secretariat of the CAA, changes voluntarily every two years among the Member Armies. In 2016-2017 the U.S. Army will host the Permanent Executive Secretariat which is responsible for coordinating all CAA activities.
Assuming the leadership of the CAA is an honor that Milley welcomed.
"It has been an honor to welcome Gen. Mejia and his team to Washington, D.C., this week and to have the opportunity to accept the privilege of hosting the Permanent Executive Secretariat of the Conference of the American Armies," said Milley.
The PESCAA assists the host Army and the Member Armies in the planning and execution of CAA events and implementing the actions for which it is responsible as set forth in accords and the by-laws. This will be the first time the U.S. Army has hosted PESCAA since the 19th CAA cycle (1990-1991).
Since 1960, the CAA has provided a venue for the Chief of Staff of the Army to engage in multilateral and bilateral dialogue with counterparts in the region. U.S. Army South is the Army's action agent and CAA liaison responsible for all conference coordination with the event host armies.
"By assuming the responsibility for leadership of the Conference of American Armies over the next two years, I look forward to partnering with leaders to strengthen our relationships and improve security in the hemisphere and across the world," Milley said. "As we move forward, this conference will continue to provide our armies the opportunity to increase cooperation, interoperability, and most importantly, develop mutually beneficial solutions to the complex issues that we face."
The CAA will allow leaders to discuss lessons learned and apply them to individual and shared doctrine, training and education. It also provides a common understanding of current operations and how relationships and cooperation sustains individual and shared capacity in current and future efforts. The CAA has made significant contributions to peacekeeping, which is paramount to the region. Armies exist to perpetuate peace, and this forum allows leaders of armies to strengthen relationships, increase cooperation, and integrate ways to improve interoperability in combined capabilities.
During the transfer ceremony, Milley presented Mejia the Legion of Merit Award for exceptionally meritorious service as the commander of the Colombian National Army.
While speaking to Milley and other guests in the audience, Mejia reflected upon the importance and the sentimental value the medal held for him.
"I'm very proud to receive this very special medal. I have the same picture of Gen. John Galvin, commander, Southern Command, presenting to my father as Commander of the Army the same medal 30 years ago," Mejia said. "Today when I was receiving this medal, it is so important, I was thinking of them. They started their military careers in Colombia together creating their own schools, training the commanders of this fight."