The General of the Colombian Army, Alberto Mejía, commented today on the planned transformation of the armed forces. The design for the new armed forces of Colombia will focus more upon a volunteer, professional and educated force rather than what he deemed as “robot soldiers”, or drafted soldiers who are compelled to serve.
The new legislation that has passed congress represents, for General Mejía, the start of this change. The law mandates a shorter military service period, from 24 months to 18 months. However, it still does not address the compulsory service as high school students will still be required to serve their country unless they receive a waiver.
Currently, Colombian military soldiers receive 90,000 pesos each month, or about US $30. This new legislation allows soldiers to make up to 350,000 pesos, or US $115, per month. If, after serving, the soldiers opt for a career in the military, they can make as much as 1.9 million or US $610 on a monthly basis.
According to Mejía, the hope is that congress can go one step further and eliminate compulsory service entirely, creating an all-volunteer force. This would allow the military to increase the salaries of soldiers even further and provide better education and training in cooperation with SENA (National Learning Services) and the School of Professional Soldiers. The idea is that rather than compulsory service, the military could be a career that provides training and prepares soldiers to become professionals.
With currently more than 940,000 citizens who have avoided compulsory registration, the new law will allow for amnesty in exchange for one year of service to fulfill their obligations. Those who have evaded the draft and are older than 24, or those exempt from military service, would be required to pay 111,000 pesos as compensation to be released from this obligation. Students will be allowed to postpone their service until after they have completed their studies.
Colombia currently has 240,000 soldiers and this number continues to grow, with nearly 50% of the population under 25 years old. The hope is that the army can evolve to become a multifaceted, professional organization that is centered around the soldier, with better training and more access to technology. The plan is to be implemented over the next decade.