Gen. Mario Montoya Uribe, ColombiaAca,!a,,cs national army commander, visited the U.S. Army South headquarters in San Antonio last week.

A veteran of more than 35 years in uniform, MontoyaAca,!a,,cs career prior to assuming his armyAca,!a,,cs highest post included commands at the company, battalion, brigade and division level, as well as assignments as the cavalry school director, commander of the Caribbean Joint Command and army intelligence director.

Aca,!A"For the nearly 40 years this man has served in uniform, his country has been at war,Aca,!A? said U.S. Army South commander Maj. Gen. Keith M. Huber, introducing Montoya to his staff. Aca,!A"ItAca,!a,,cs hard for any of us to imagine what that must be like. ItAca,!a,,cs incredible.Aca,!A?

Montoya thanked Huber and his staff for their nationAca,!a,,cs unwavering support over the years.

Aca,!A"For us,Aca,!A? he said, Aca,!A"you are the best friends. You are the best allies.Aca,!A?

Aca,!A"Everybody in my country believes you are the best friends,Aca,!A? he added.

During the course of his briefing to the U.S. Army South staff, Montoya highlighted his armyAca,!a,,cs impressive success against the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC. Through a combination of political and military efforts, including generous amnesty programs and a stronger army presence in areas previously dominated by the FARC, Colombia has seen the FARCAca,!a,,cs numbers drop from a peak of around 16,900 in 2001 to a current estimate of 8,500. In 2007 alone the Colombian army fought 2,581 engagements that resulted in the capture of 5,233 terrorists, the death of 2,970 more, and the voluntary surrender of 1,404. Attacks against the people and infrastructure of Colombia have dropped dramatically, as has the number of hostages in captivity, from around 800 in 2005 to a current estimate of 450. Among them are three U.S. contractors captured in Feb. 2003.

Aca,!A"Remember the first law of the Romans,Aca,!A? said Montoya. Aca,!A"Security. You know that if there is no security, there is no social investment, there is no economic development, there is no freedom.Aca,!A?

The improved security in Colombia has borne impressive results: unemployment is down and imports, exports, tourism, foreign investment and the GDP have all risen dramatically in recent years.

But as Montoya himself concedes, there is still much work to be done.

This July in BogotAfA!, the Colombian army co-hosts the annual Senior Enlisted Leaders Conference, a forum led by U.S. Army South that brings together enlisted leaders from throughout Latin America and the Caribbean to discuss the professionalization of their respective non-commissioned officer corps.

A few years ago, Colombia built a command sergeants major academy modeled after the U.S. ArmyAca,!a,,cs, part of a continuing effort to transform the way their own army operates and fights in a conflict that has spanned the entirety of MontoyaAca,!a,,cs distinguished career.