Despite COVID, IAAFA continues its mission uninterrupted

  • Published
  • By Vanessa R. Adame
  • 37th Training Wing Public Affairs

JOINT BASE SAN ANTONIO-LACKLAND, Texas -- The number of international students at the Inter-American Air Forces Academy decreased by more than half when COVID-19 struck the nation nearly one year ago. Despite the new operating environment, IAAFA leadership quickly adapted and vectored its members and missions to maintain uninterrupted support to partner nations and the 37th Training Wing.

The Inter-American Air Forces Academy, or IAAFA, provides military education and training to U.S. North Command and U.S. South Command, including 23 partner nations. The academy’s professional approach to academics over the last 78 years makes it the benchmark in the Western Hemisphere. This approach now includes an extensive Virtual Learning Environment (VLE) curriculum designed shortly after the pandemic curtailed in-residence academic operations.

“COVID has completely transformed the way we do business, and the processes we had in place to take care of our students and the academy,” said Javier Peraffán, Director of International Student Support.

Altogether, 60 students are enrolled during Alpha cycle, which runs from January through April this year. These international students will attend seven in-person courses and one additional class through its virtual learning environment.

“We are working on implementing lessons learned to be able to maximize training while still maintaining safety protocols,” Peraffán said. “The ultimate goal is to train as many students as possible, in the safest environment possible.”

IAAFA will follow a thorough health plan based on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Surgeon General and higher headquarters directives. These include a requirement for students to have a recent negative COVID test prior to arrival. Following their arrival, all students undergo medical screening and go into a 14-day restriction of movement. During this period, IAAFA staff carry out temperature checks, questionnaires and other measures to monitor student and staff safety.

To accomplish its health plan, IAAFA leadership, staff and cadre work closely with the 59th Medical Wing, 502nd Air Base Wing and 37th Training Wing agencies. The military personnel flight, base lodging, dining facilities and others play critical roles in the care and well-being of IAAFA’s student body. The execution of the health plan and collaboration with other agencies also provide useful lessons-learned and best practices that will be beneficial as IAAFA gradually returns to its full in-residence capacity of about 250 students per cycle.

“It’s not hurting our mission, it’s helping to keep our faculty, staff and students protected,” said Ralph Sanchez, Chief Registrar.

IAAFA’s Professional Military Education is also providing the groundwork for other military schoolhouses, as it has been the only PME instructional facility to continue with in-person instruction.

All three levels of PME courses are currently being offered at the academy, although on a smaller scale. The International Student Officer Course, International Airman Leadership Course and International Non-Commissioned Officer Course were successfully reinstituted at the academy with zero COVID-19 cases during Charlie Cycle in October 2020.  The academy graduated 28 students from partner nations and the U.S. during this time, among them two Space Force Guardians.

“We visited Basic Military Training and other training squadrons to help us capture their daily operations, procedures and health measures. Once we gathered the data we needed, we made modifications to fit our curriculum and campus accordingly,” said Capt. Christopher Price, PME Flight commander.

Part of the modifications included rearranging desks six feet apart, checking temperatures twice a day, and occasionally conducting classes in the IAAFA Training Center auditorium to provide more spacing between students. Safety measures also included a 14-day restriction of movement for all new students immediately upon their arrival.

Although restrictions are still in place for incoming students one year later, IAAFA is paving the way for other military schoolhouses to follow. This year, Alpha-cycle courses at IAAFA started January 2021, with 18 officers and 16 enlisted members from Honduras, El Salvador, Guatemala, Panama, Uruguay, Colombia and the U.S. 

Price said that the impact that the in-residence class has had on the wing, the Air Force and the Department of Defense was immeasurable.

“Besides setting the benchmark for the other USAF PME schoolhouses to emulate in their efforts to return to in residence teaching, our building partnership mission has remained intact, and has allowed us to once again teach in residence this February 2021 class and teach other technical training courses as well,” Price said.