By Julieta Pelcastre/Diálogo July 25, 2017 For the second time since its founding, the Paraguayan Armed Forces have hosted the top soldiers from across North and South America, who competed for one of the Western Hemisphere’s most prestigious military trophies: Fuerzas Comando. The special forces of North and South American partner nations have been participating in the military exercise every year since 2004. For 2017, the competition’s slogan was “The Force that Brings Us Together.” From July 17th-26th, around 500 personnel, including military, police, special agents, and civilian personnel from 20 countries gave it their all in tests at various Paraguayan Army units, including the Infantry Training School (in Vista Alegre), the Special Forces Facilities (in the department of Presidente Hayes), and the Artillery Command (in the department of Paraguarí). Paraguay organized Fuerzas Comando for the first time in 2006. The competition is sponsored by U.S. Southern Command (SOUTHCOM) and run by the U.S. Army Special Operations Command South (SOCSOUTH). It promotes relationships between military members, increases interoperability, and improves regional security. “Thanks to the excellent coordination and the joint work of our armed institutions and SOCSOUTH, partner armed forces are participating in a competition involving demanding military skills that strengthen the preparedness of special forces in the fight against transnational organized crime, terrorism, and all these crimes that have a connection to each other,” Paraguayan Army Brigadier General Héctor Alfredo Limenza Ríos, the general coordinator of Fuerzas Comando 2017, told Diálogo. “The competition allows the participating teams to obtain recognition as elite forces representing their country,” U.S. Army Lieutenant Colonel Ángel Martínez, the deputy director of training and exercises for SOCSOUTH, told Diálogo. He is in charge of the U.S. delegation participating in the competition. “Also, they acquire knowledge that benefits all members of the region so they can work in a more integrated manner to address regional security challenges.” On this occasion, commandos from Argentina, Belize, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, El Salvador, the United States Guatemala, Guyana, Haiti, Honduras, Jamaica, Mexico, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, the Dominican Republic, Trinidad and Tobago, and Uruguay “are competing in ground and environmental conditions that they have never dealt with before, including obstacle courses that challenge members of each team with physical and mental tests and tests of teamwork, as well as tests that require a high level of technical skill,” Lt. Col. Martínez said. Brazil rejoined the competition after a two-year hiatus. Each command is composed of four troops of an assault group, two snipers, and an alternate. The combined assault groups compete in physical fitness tests, a confidence course, combat, a march, an aquatic event and an obstacle course. The sniper teams face each other in a series of events including marksmanship and mobility tests, transfers in hostile territory, hostage-rescue simulations, obtaining photos, stress tests, and obtaining distances based on data from the operations center. The most grueling military competition The premier special forces troops are getting ready mentally and physically for different tests established by SOCSOUTH. “The competitor goes to the competition prepared and ready to carry out tasks in events that simulate uncommon and unexpected situations in an unknown, risk-filled environment,” Lt. Col. Martínez said. “With the goal of obtaining the best results in our most strenuous military competition, we train in an intensive, progressive manner on techniques and procedures that should be followed in the fight against terrorism, drug trafficking, and guerrilla organizations,” First Lieutenant Joel Velázquez, Paraguayan Army Special Forces Course instructor, told Diálogo. This is his third time participating in the friendly event. The main challenge for the competing elite commandos is to react and obtain the highest level of proficiency, and the highest scores in the tasks assigned to them during events that are, for the most part, unknown to the competitor up until only a few seconds before the test begins. “The most stressful test is the 20-kilometer off-road march with a rucksack of approximately 30 kilograms, along with aquatic exercises, and an obstacle course,” 1st Lt. Velázquez said, vividly recalling experiences from previous competitions. “Because it doesn’t just put the soldiers’ [physical] resistance to the test but also their psychological resistance and spirit; it requires a lot of willpower to finish.” To ensure a fair competition, the assigned tasks are scored and evaluated by judges from each participating country. These judges competed in previous editions and subjected to the same tasks. The series of evaluations will conclude with an airborne operation test, also known as a friendship jump. Goals with a minimum of errors “In any competition, a winner emerges. The country that obtains the Fuerzas Comando trophy not only wins pride and prestige but also the responsibility to redouble their efforts and training for the next competition,” Brig. Gen. Limenza said. Colombia holds the record for having won the hemisphere’s military competitions eight times. “Competition is always healthy, we all win,” 1st Lt. Velázquez stressed. “The tests also allow the participants to identify how to improve their collaboration with each other and to reach their goals in a more effective way and with as few errors as possible, thus developing their internal methods for a more effective performance of their work,” Lt. Col. Martínez added. The force that brings us together While the teams measure their knowledge and skills, senior military commanders and government representatives from the competing countries simultaneously conducted a seminar called the “Distinguished Visitor Program” (DVP) in the capital city of Asunción. The special meeting was geared towards issues concerning how to counteract current transnational and transregional threats in the Americas, according to the website of the Paraguayan Ministry of Defense. The DVP program focused on improving military and political relations and multinational military cooperation. “In addition, and maybe much more valuable, are the relationships that are established and strengthened among participants from across the hemisphere, who share a common goal of being prepared to protect the stability and security of our hemisphere,” Lt. Col. Martínez said. “This is the force that brings us together to improve our cooperation, mutual trust, training, our recruitment levels, and the capability that the special forces across the Americas can have, since the crimes that plague us are transnational,” Brig. Gen. Limenza added. “What happens today in Paraguay or in another partner nation also has an influence in other places,” he concluded.