Spanish-speaking JAG officer forges international partnerships

by Rebecca Burylo
Air University Public Affairs

5/10/2013 - MAXWELL AIR FORCE BASE, AL  -- In creating solid friendships with Central and South America, instructor Capt. William Toronto from The Air Force Judge Advocate General's School at Maxwell taught military officers of Colombia, Paraguay and Guatemala the rule of law at the Inter-American Air Force Academy at Lackland Air Force Base, Texas, April 18-22.

"IAAFA has a big mission where they are really just trying to unify and standardize a lot of the training and understanding throughout North and South America," said Toronto. "We want to forge a big partnership and lay the groundwork for as much peace as we can."

Toronto instructed 10 highranking Latin American officers entirely in Spanish, covering law of armed conflict, antiterrorism, human rights and military justice. He also let them observe the United States' military justice system through a court-martial proceeding and tour of a military confinement facility.

AFJAGS "proudly" supports the legal education of allied armed forces, according to Commandant Col. Kenneth Theurer, who added that nations that "demonstrate a cultural value for the rule of law are stable, peaceful and free."

"United States policy has always promoted the rule of law as a vital component of U.S. foreign relations, especially in those nations that are modernizing their justice systems and look to us as an example," he said.

The lectures were all taught in Spanish, the officers' native language, and focused specifically on legal employment of defensive and offensive forces in accordance with the United Nations.

Toronto was able to employ his fluency in Spanish after spending years in Uruguay as a missionary. He has taught the course three times since joining AFJAGS in 2011 and said he will continue to teach it.

Going around the room during one session, officers shared unique missions, challenges or experiences in their countries and welcomed any advice on how to face violent factions in their homeland. Toronto said it was a wonderful learning experience to see the depth of understanding the colonels, lieutenant colonels and majors brought to the discussion.

"They've been through a lot of training in their own countries and understand a lot about what the big picture is from their nations' perspective," he said. "They'll employ a lot of what they are learning here about human rights, laws of armed conflict and mesh it with what they already know."

Essentially an ambassador mission, according to Toronto, the course is a unique and perfect opportunity to exchange cultures, form friendships and share information with those from different backgrounds.

"A lot of times this is the first time they [students] have ever been in our country and their first introduction into our system and what we do," he explained.
"So it was a wonderful exchange of cultures and mostly of great memories of making friends and leaning to understand one another." Nearing the end of the course, the officers were invited into one of the homes of an American instructor, where they shared fun, music and food.

They also exchanged mementoes and coins from each other's military units. After each trip, Toronto returns to AFJAGS with a fresh perspective from the relationships formed.

"The neat thing about getting to know and work with, teach and learn from folks from these different countries is you get to know them and get to like them as people," he said.

"People are the same everywhere, no matter where you're from or language you speak. All the big governing issues and foreign policy issues can't be associated with every single person in that country. They really just are issues of state, issues of government."