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Western Hemisphere Exchange Symposium brings IAAFA partners together

By Mary Nell Sanchez | 502nd Air Base Wing Public Affairs | April 4, 2018


The Inter-American Air Forces Academy, or IAAFA, at Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland welcomed partners from 21 nations to San Antonio, March 13 -17, 2018, with a mission to continue strengthening relationships during its annual Western Hemisphere Exchange Symposium and 75th IAAFA anniversary celebration.


The week long symposium addressed areas of shared best practices and lessons learned in aircraft maintenance and sustainment, drug control operations, airspace command and control and humanitarian assistance and disaster relief.


Leaders from countries that participated in the symposium included Argentina, Bolivia, Colombia, Ecuador, Mexico, Nicaragua, El Salvador and Haiti.


An estimated 350-400 attendees were treated to festivities on JBSA-Lackland, to include the Parade of Flags honoring IAAFA partners during the week of activities. The symposium and IAAFA’s 75th anniversary celebration were both held in downtown San Antonio.


Col. Isaac Davidson, IAAFA commandant, said that while the symposium’s baseline was maintenance and sustainment, how the countries work together is key.


“For every one of the challenges, [IAAFA partners] respond with systems that require robust maintenance and sustainment,” Davidson said.


Keeping the relationships between countries strong starts with one important factor friendship.


“[IAAFA partners] all agreed that before you can have security cooperation, there’s got to be a baseline of friendship,” Davidson said.


Brig. Gen. Fernando Losada, chief of Training and Education of the Colombian Air Force, couldn’t agree more. Many students from his country are trained at IAAFA.


“My country has a long relationship with IAAFA," Losada said. “It’s very important to have our students come here and then go back to Colombia with the knowledge and preparation to complete the task.”


As a result of the education students receive at IAAFA, the relationship between Colombia and other Latin American countries has grown even stronger which sets the country up for success.


“We want to be self-sustaining in our maintenance and the training we get here is very important,” Losada said. “That training offered at  IAAFA prepares our graduates to step up when a crisis occurs.”


The symposium’s first day featured representatives from Bolivia, Brazil, Haiti and Peru. Each representative led sessions on topics that included Airspace Command and Control and Humanitarian Assistance and Disaster Response, as well as, how to counter threat networks.


The topic of humanitarian assistance and disaster relief was discussed in depth. The 2010 earthquake in Haiti claimed approximately 230,000 lives, according to Hantz Celestin, Senior Air Traffic Controller and Director of Haiti’s Aeronautical Search and Rescue Department. Celestin traveled from Port-Au-Prince to talk about how partner nations were there when the natural disaster happened.


During his presentation, he highlighted the cooperation between countries as soon as assistance began, despite the fact that the air control tower had been destroyed.


“It started rolling really fast,” Celestin said. “Everyone wanted to come in, but we could only handle 10 airplanes at a time on the tarmac.”


Regardless of the country, help was coming from everywhere.


“I saw the U.S. Air Force unloading a plane from Cuba, a plane from China, a plane from Venezuela. That day, it didn’t much matter what country you represented. You were bringing help,” Celestin said.


Later on that week, IAAFA’s 75th anniversary dinner was held in downtown San Antonio. The keynote speaker for the dinner was Maj. Gen. John Norman, Chief of Staff of the U.S. Southern Command.


“Norman is a 'great leader and supporter' for IAAFA,” Davidson said. “He interacted with partner nations throughout the week and made them feel welcomed.


Lt. Col. Pedro Matos, IAAFA deputy commandant, was the key architect of the week-long event. Matos and his team received great feedback not only from attending leaders, but IAAFA students.


“It was worth it and beyond what we thought,” Matos said.  


Davidson and Matos credit the Air Education and Training Command, 2nd Air Force, 37th Training Wing leadership, and the entire IAAFA staff, among countless others throughout JBSA for giving the symposium’s attendees an educational and memorable experience.


“The fact that we were able to have open and candid discussions on the topics that really affect our nations in the setting that we had; you can’t replicate that,” Matos said.