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Home : News : News
NEWS | July 5, 2017

IAAFA counter-terrorism symposium delivers crucial lesson

By Jeremy Gerlach 502nd Air Base Wing Public Affairs

More than 20 members of Colombia’s armed forces packed a classroom at the Inter-American Air Force Academy for a counter-terrorism symposium held at Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland June 20.


The Colombian students hovered around a table, marveling at several replica explosives and countless deadly traps jammed into glass bottles, suitcases and laptops as Tech. Sgt. Juan Ipatzi, 837th Training Squadron International Force Protection Flight Instructor, looked on.


The symposium was designed to demonstrate how terrorists can turn even the most commonplace items – an iPhone, an envelope or a soda can – into a deadly weapon.


To prove this point, Ipatzi pointed out that all 26 students had failed to notice one of the biggest bombs in the room: a large flower pot, positioned just inside the door of the classroom, was full of daisies and dandelions, but also brimming with wires and electronic sensors.


“If you don’t start thinking this way,” Ipatzi explained, “You will miss these things.”


For Master Sgt. Cesar Correa of the Colombian air force, the symposium couldn’t have come at a more meaningful time in his career.


Now in its fifth year, this year’s symposium was conducted less than a week after a terrorist-planted bomb killed three people and injured nine at one of the largest shopping centers in Bogota, Colombia’s capital city, June 17. Similar to other bombs Correa learned about at the symposium, that particular bomb was an improvised explosive hidden inside an unexpected area – a small bathroom.


“There is always room to improve, or lessons to be learned,” said Correa, who noted the mall where the attack occurred was private property protected by a private security force, not Colombia’s armed forces. “You have to take time … to be thorough, when you are sweeping an area, vehicle or a facility for dangers.”


In 2016, the Colombian government reached a peace deal with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, which effectively brought decades of civil war in the country to a halt. Still, bombings like these have continued sporadically as smaller groups of insurgents continue to try to disrupt the peace process.


“It is our job to keep protecting the people,” Correa said. “This (symposium) will be a great tool for us moving forward.”


Ipatzi noted the team of Colombians at IAAFA have been “great learners,” and will have a wealth of knowledge to take back to their homeland.


“IAAFA has always done a great job fostering partnerships, sharing information like this,” Ipatzi said of the anti-terrorism course. “This symposium has been a great chance for these personnel to learn hands-on, to actually see everything in front of them that they will be facing.”


For many students, the sheer diversity of bomb-making material can be overwhelming at first, Ipatzi noted.


“There are just countless ways to make a bomb,” he said. “But the sooner you learn about how to spot them, how to disable them, how to recognize them … the better chance you are going to have at keeping everybody on your team safe.”


In addition to bomb theory, the students took part in lectures on the theory of terrorism itself, along with individual protection measures. As Ipatzi noted, before these service members can protect others, they’ll need to be able to protect themselves and their unit too.


“It’s easy to be aware of your surroundings on-base,” Ipatzi explained. “But what happens when you are on leave? What happens when you go TDY? When you are traveling? This is where we also give you the tools to stay safe.”


The course also covered other aspects of terrorism, like how to survive a hostage situation.


“You might be kidnapped by terrorists, or they could be kidnapped by a criminal group,” Ipatzi noted. “We give them advice on how to deal with that situation, how to survive, not just spiritually and through morale but physically too.”


Ipatzi is confident all the students are now well-positioned to make an immediate impact back home.


“These are men and women who will be able to advise their fellow service members, their commanders, on how to better secure structures and vehicles,” Ipatzi said. “They’ve got the knowledge now, and they’ll be able to get their leadership to implement it.”