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NEWS | March 22, 2013

IAAFA celebrates 70th anniversary

By Mike Joseph JBSA-Lackland Public Affairs

The Inter-American Air Forces Academy celebrated turning 70 with a special event attended by more than 350 people in the IAAFA Airfield Training Complex at Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland March 15.

Senior leaders, distinguished visitors and guests helped commemorate the anniversary with IAAFA staff, instructors and students in one of the complex's hangars, which included a ceremonial cake cutting with a saber and a wine toast.

The specially designed three-tier cake was cut by a student from Panama, where the academy was originally founded. The toast to IAAFA and its international partners was made by guest speaker Jaime Vazquez, a retired colonel and former IAAFA commander, to senior leaders with wine from Latin America partner nations.

"Seventy years - not a lot of units can say the same," said Col. Marc Stratton, IAAFA commandant. "Since the Air Force came after IAAFA was founded by several years, we are somewhat unique.

"We've kept the same focus on aviation-related skills throughout even with name changes and three different locations," Stratton said. "We're very proud of the last 70 years."

IAAFA was founded March 15, 1943 as the Central and South American Air School at Albrook Field, Panama Canal Zone. Requested by Gen. Fernando Melgar, Peru's minister of Aeronautics, the school opened with 11 Peruvian air force students as the U.S. military entered aeronautics training in Latin America for the first time.

In response to the rise of potential conflicts in the Western Hemisphere and the world at large, the school adapted its training and expanded its student capacity to 400 per year during the 1940s and '50s. IAAFA now graduates more than 600 students every year.

The curriculum includes hands-on aircraft maintenance training in a format still used today that was originally established in 1952. Leadership courses and military and athletic instruction complete with cultural awareness and strong student support round out the program.

The school was also renamed the United States Air Force School for Latin America to emphasize the strengthening bonds between U.S. and Latin America.

As U.S. relationships with partner nations in the Latin American region continued to grow, the school's name was again changed in 1966 to the Inter-American Air Forces Academy.

Relocations are also a part of the academy's history. IAAFA closed at Albrook on Sept. 30, 1989, and reopened Jan. 9, 1990 at Homestead Air Force Base, Fla. In late August 1992, the academy was almost completely destroyed by Hurricane Andrew. It relocated to Lackland on Sept. 23, 1992 and reopened Jan. 11, 1993.

"We've had some amazing things occur," Stratton said. "In both moves from Panama to Florida and from Florida to Lackland, the school was up and running in less than 100 days. That's pretty incredible when you think about it."

The academy reached another relocation milestone last year. All aviation maintenance courses and aircraft at Kelly Field were moved to the main Lackland campus when the $19 million airfield training complex opened last February.

"We didn't skip a beat," the commander said about the move from Kelly. "It took less than 30 days," Stratton said.

Through the years, IAAFA has stayed relevant by adapting its training to meet the needs of partner nations and their students.

Once exclusively air force populations, now 50 percent of the in-residence students include other service branches and national police.

"That's been a big change for us," Stratton said. "I think people realize that you've got to work jointly. It's no longer a one-service show."

He said IAAFA is more flexible and adaptable than typical in-residence institutions to meet customer demand and student needs.

"We're constantly scrubbing our list of 34 courses," Stratton said. "It's a constant evaluation that never really ends.

"But one thing that won't change is the quality of people we have and their dedication to the mission. It's absolutely essential to what we do," he added.