BOGOTA, Columbia, July 30, 2011 -- The Under Secretary of the Army completed his week-long visit to Central and South America July 30, after visits to key U.S. Department of State officials and partner nation military leaders in Honduras, Guatemala, El Salvador and Colombia.

Joseph W. Westphal toured the region in order to understand the missions and operations of the U.S. Army in partner nations and become familiar with partner nation capabilities in order to ensure the Army is supporting efforts to promote security and stability in Central and South America.

“My main objective for the trip was to familiarize, and in some cases re-familiarize, myself with the security situation of each nation so that I could better advise the Secretary of the Army and use that information when considering Army support and resources for our activities in Central and South America,” Westphal said. “I also wanted to understand the security priorities and concerns of each nation to ensure that our armies are working together for our mutual benefit in terms of security and stability operations.”

During the visits, he was accompanied by Maj. Gen. Simeon B. Trombitas, commander U.S. Army South. Army South is the Army Service Component Command for U.S. Southern Command and is responsible for conducting theater security cooperation activities in Central and South America and the Caribbean.

“We started the Under Secretary’s visit with Joint Task Force Bravo in Honduras so that he could talk with servicemembers and get a sense of the missions that the U.S. military does in the region every day,” said Trombitas. “JTF-B, with its missions to counter illicit narcotics trafficking, assist with humanitarian and disaster relief, and also build partner nation capacity, provides an excellent example of the type of missions we’re doing in the region.”

After Honduras, Westphal traveled to Guatemala where he met with Ambassador Stephen G. McFarland, and the Guatemalan Minister of Defense Maj. Gen. Jose Ruiz Morales and other key military leaders.

El Salvador was the next stop on Westphal’s trip where he met with Ambassador Mari Carmen Aponte and received a modified country team briefing from key embassy officers. Col. Carlos Figueroa, commander of the U.S. Military Group in El Salvador, also provided the Under Secretary with an update on the group’s activities and partnership with the El Salvadoran military.

Westphal also met with the El Salvadoran Minister of Defense Maj. Gen. Payes and Army Chief of Staff Brig. Gen. Cesar Adonay Acosta Bonilla. They discussed the close partnership and cooperation between the El Salvadoran and U.S. militaries and discussed future opportunities for both nations to work together. El Salvador supported U.S. and coalition efforts in Iraq by sending 11 rotations of soldiers as part of Operation Iraqi Freedom.

Westphal began the final leg of his trip July 28 in Bogota, Colombia, where he was greeted with military honors at the Colombian army headquarters. Gen. Alejandro Navas welcomed Westphal to the headquarters where they discussed the Colombian-U.S. military partnership and Navas expressed his appreciation for U.S. support. Navas also awarded Westphal the Fe en La Causa medal for his support of Colombian military efforts.

Westphal also met with the Colombian Vice Minister of Defense, Yanneth Giha Tovar, and the commander of the air force, Gen. Julio Alberto Gonzalez Ruiz.

On July 29, the vice minister of defense escorted Westphal to the Colombian air base at Melgar where he toured the Joint Initial Entry Rotary Wing Training Center. He attended the graduation ceremony for the first class of Colombian OH-58 helicopter pilots and spoke with the new pilots about their training.

The Department of Defense, through the Aviation Training Assistance Field Team, has assisted Colombia with its rotary wing training program since 2001. The team trains Colombian pilots to be trainers, assists with developing training programs, provides quality control to ensure training is to standard and also assists with maintenance issues.

The rotary wing program has reached such a high level of excellence that students from other countries in the region now attend the OH-58 helicopter pilot training course.

After Melgar, Westphal flew to the Tolemaida National Training Center, the main Colombian army training base. Brig. Gen. Diego Yesid Sanchez, training center commander, escorted Westphal around the center and explained the center’s mission and the training conducted there.

Tolemaida is home to the Lancero School which is very similar to the Army’s Ranger School. Soldiers receive training in irregular warfare operations in both mountain and jungle terrain.

The Lanceros put on a demonstration of their skills for Westphal, rappelling from three different towers using the full range of rappel techniques. After the demonstration, Westphal congratulated them on their dedication to excellence and the security of their country, to a loud cheer of “Lancero!”
Westphal then toured the Fe en La Causa training lane where soldiers are trained on human rights, ethics, values, honor and dedication to their profession and country.

Soldiers briefed Westphal on the training conducted on the lane and the importance of instilling values and ethical behavior. The soldiers also provided examples of ethical behavior in a series of vignettes that posed ethical, professional or human rights dilemmas.

The week-long trip ended with the three U.S. exchange Soldiers in Colombia talking with Westphal about their roles as members of the Military Personnel Exchange Program.

Maj. Harry White, Capt. Julio Rivera and Sgt. 1st Class Francisco Mendez explained their duties and activities to Westphal as well as the importance of the exchange program. Each works in a different organization in the Colombian army: White in the Colombian joint special operations command, Rivera in the Lancero school, and Mendez in the Center of Military Education. There are Colombian soldiers in the U.S. performing similar roles as exchange officers since the program is on a one-for-one basis.

“I was very impressed with how well our military forces are working together with our partner nation forces,” Westphal said. “In each country I visited, I saw how close cooperation and partnership can greatly assist our common goal to ensure stability and security in the region.”

Starting and ending with the chance to talk with Soldiers, Westphal’s trip to Central and South America provided him with an opportunity to see Army operations in an important region of the world.

"The trip was very successful as the Under Secretary was able to meet with some of our key partners in the region, understand the capabilities of each nation, and gain firsthand knowledge of the activities we are conducting with our partners," said Trombitas.