Western Hemisphere air chiefs work together at annual conference

  • Published
  • By Capt. Bryan Bouchard
  • 12th Air Force (Air Forces Southern) Public Affairs
United-Allied -- this is the motto of the System of Cooperation Among the American Air Forces, an organization comprised of more than 20 air force leaders from across the Western Hemisphere, who met June 22-26 in Mexico City for a summit known as the Conference of American Air Chiefs.

The conference was a time to confer new agreements, discuss the direction of the organization, agree to future exercises, and continue to build upon a 50-plus year history of cooperation and goodwill.

"In 1961, former Chief of Staff of the Air Force Gen. Thomas D. White, had great foresight in bringing together the air chiefs of the Western Hemisphere to discuss issues of mutual concern," said Col. Alberto Moreno-Bonet, the SICOFAA secretary general, who organizes the group's efforts from an office at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, Arizona. "Now, 55 years later, 20 nations, along with several observing nations, openly share tactics, techniques, and procedures in the realm of humanitarian assistance and disaster relief."

Throughout the year, representatives from each nation meet to map out interoperability agreements, update doctrine and propose future plans for the air chiefs to discuss. Since 2010, Moreno said that SICOFAA has been almost singularly focused on humanitarian assistance and disaster relief. The Haiti earthquake that year led to this development and has congealed the organization's efforts and resolve.

"We don't do anything in this world alone," said Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Mark A. Welsh III. "Coalitions that form to support everything from humanitarian relief to contingency operations require organizations, especially military organizations, that know how to integrate and work together under tough conditions. That is much easier if those organizations and the people in them have learned to trust each other before crises begin. SICOFAA helps us develop that trust."

This year, SICOFAA leaders signed a memorandum of understanding improving how member nations will organize in the event one of the nations experiences a humanitarian or disaster relief crisis. Previous agreements stated that each country's air force will help where it can to assist any other SICOFAA member nation in times of need. Additionally, the nations’ air force leaders also updated part of its charter, streamlining how decisions are voted on, and ultimately ratified it into the fabric of the organization.

"The greatest thing about SICOFAA is that it's an opportunity for countries who are neighbors, who are partners, to become better friends," Welsh said. "We also develop even more trust in our collective future, which allows us to do bigger and better things to benefit the citizens of our countries."

In 2010, SICOFAA started exercising together in a humanitarian assistance and disaster relief scenario known as Cooperacion, with the first iteration taking place in Chile. Last year, Peru hosted Cooperacion III, with Argentina scheduled to host the fourth iteration next year. The majority of SICOFAA nations send participants and aircraft to practice working together to prepare for what most countries see as an inevitable humanitarian assistance and disaster relief challenge in the future.

"I expect this system of cooperation to become stronger, and that it comes together as an entity that can respond to any contingency," said the Commander of the Mexican air force Gen. Carlos Antonio Rodriguez Munguia. "Its capabilities will become more efficient in its responses, especially to natural disasters but also to risks faced by participant nations."

Each year, SICOFAA holds the annual conference in a different country. Last year, leaders met in Medellin, Colombia, and next year’s event will be hosted in Colorado Springs, Colorado. In addition to the countries represented by the aforementioned air chiefs, this year's attendees included air chiefs from Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Peru, Bolivia, Paraguay, Uruguay, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, Jamaica, U.S., Canada, Mexico, Panama, Colombia, Ecuador, El Salvador, Guatemala, Guyana, Honduras, Paraguay and the Dominican Republic.