JOINT BASE SAN ANTONIO-LACKLAND, Texas –
The mission of the Inter-American Air Forces Academy, located at Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland, Texas, is strengthening international partnerships through education and training and the new IAAFA commandant, Col. Isaac Davidson, wants to make sure everyone knows this about his academy.
Davidson, born in Panama where Spanish is his first language and English is his second, has spent the last 34 years of his Air Force career building international relationships.
“The building of relationships, the tackling of major challenges with friends, with teams – sitting down at a table and having either breakfast, lunch or dinner and discussing how to go about taking on major challenges or smaller challenges, and then working together to accomplish those,” said Davidson.
Among Davidson’s military overseas assignments are Colombia, Egypt and Iraq. He was especially fortunate to have been part of a team in Colombia that helped to improve the process of getting foreign students selected for training prepared both in Colombia and the United States. The process involved coordinating with Colombia, the Department of Defense and the Department of State.
“It just so happens that I have worked security cooperation in three different countries, either deployed or assigned,” he said. “I was involved, again, in building relationships. There, I was part of a group of senior advisors, all of them in military services in the U.S.”
The new commandant has already seen how simple day-to-day professional relationships in the past turned out to be the seeds now bearing fruit. He points to an administrative specialist he used to work alongside with who works at the U.S. Embassy in Colombia who inquired about the new IAAFA commandant. Davidson added when her colleagues told her he was indeed the same person she knew when he was a major, she said “Now I know somebody.”
Looking ahead, Davidson is excited to lead IAAFA. Since his arrival he is most impressed by the people he will be working with.
“I would always tell them be a spot of the U.S. Air Force’s diverse skill sets and backgrounds,” said Davidson. “I tell the folks here at IAAFA, that’s what makes IAAFA so strong — it's spectrum of skills, cultures and backgrounds.”
IAAFA is a select group of members that are here, said Davidson. They are especially selected for these assignments based on their records and their skill sets, to include their Spanish language abilities.
“Nine of 10 individuals that are selected to be part of the IAAFA team never heard of IAAFA, so that’s one of our challenges,” he said.
IAAFA is currently 21 nation-partner strong. IAAFA offers students a city they are instantly comfortable in.
“San Antonio is one of the perfect locations for the Inter-American Air Forces Academy,” Davidson explains. “Most nations speak Spanish and the culture is mostly blended into some of the customs.”
The English language also plays an important role in the overall success of an IAAFA graduate. Many of the students learn the language after duty hours.
“English is an international language,” Davidson explains. “In the aviation world, it’s the language (that is) used. We definitely understand that.”
The current training cycle, which has 265 students from several Latin American countries, found themselves on the first day of class being introduced to and shaking hands with both Davidson and his new deputy commander, Lt. Col. Pedro Matos.
Matos, who has served 20 years in the military and is a former IAAFA instructor, began his new assignment Sept. 11, 2017. The Puerto Rican born leader says this new position is a “dream come true” and recalls learning the English language at IAAFA when he first attended the academy earlier in his career.
“We build partnerships through academics,” said Matos. “Our students that come through here eventually get to be majors, chiefs and commanders of the Air Force.”
As for the new students, the goal is to get them in, get them trained and get them back to their countries, said Davidson.
Part of the curriculum for IAAFA students includes visits to local governments, local historic locations like the Alamo, as well as traveling to the nation’s U.S. Capitol and the Defense College at Fort McNair, Washington, D.C.
At the end of the training, it all comes back to forming those positive professional relationships. Davidson says we’re part of a diverse neighborhood.
“If something takes place in Mexico, takes place in Costa Rica, or takes place somewhere — it is actually in our best interest and the interest of our partner nations to have what we call inter-operability, in order to smoothly execute missions together as called by our governments,” said Davidson.
Graduation ceremonies are held in April, August and December. Each graduate receives an IAAFA wing; gold for officers and silver for enlisted. Davidson says the pride of the wings is evident because many of the graduates wear the IAAFA wings on their country’s uniform.
A recent graduation guest speaker, a three-star general in the Paraguayan air force who attended IAAFA 15 years ago as a captain, was proudly wearing his IAAFA wings at the event.
Looking ahead, Davidson is focused on getting IAAFA known for its contributions to national security channeled all the way up the Air Force and DOD chain. Matos is already making plans to help Davidson achieve that goal online with all of its partner nations.
“We’re going to attack that so when people go to that web page, they have all of that information,” said Matos.
Davidson believes IAAFA will continue to achieve its goal of providing world-class instructions.
“By the end of the year we would already be on a treadmill, past the warm-up, on a road to where 75 years of IAAFA’s contribution of U.S. National Security interests and those of partner nations, mostly in the Western Hemisphere theaters, are known,” said Davidson.