For the past three weeks 15 U.S. Army ROTC Cadets have been attending the Escuela Militar (Military Academy) in Santiago, Chile. During these weeks, we have been immersed in training with future officers of the Chilean Army. Each of us was assigned to a section (equivalent to the U.S. Army’s platoon). ROTC Cadets participated in military science, military technology, history, calculus, physics, law, and psychology classes at the Escuela Militar, all taught in Spanish.
Every week, ROTC Cadets participated in physical activities with the Chilean cadets. Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays cadets participated in sport of their choice. Among these sports were: soccer, rock climbing, basketball, swimming, shooting, and the Sandhurst Team (Chile’s Ranger Challenge Team). The Sandhurst Team conducted extreme physical fitness every MWF and also alternated training on different weapons systems and other soldiering skills. The Chilean Sandhurst Team finished in fourth place overall at the international competition at West Point last year.
In addition to our time at the Escuela Militar, we were able to engage in cultural experiences outside of the military scene. The first weekend in country, we were invited to a local’s home in the country for a barbecue. Here, we enjoyed a local home-cooked meal and were presented with a traditional Chilean dance called “Cueca” by our very own hosts. The hospitality that we were shown was very humbling. The light conversations and our informal game of soccer with the family is an experience that none of us will ever forget, and may have been the highlight of our trip.
On weekends, we visited museums and historical landmarks. Some of the places visited were the former house of Congress (where FDR spoke), the Virgin Mary statue and sanctuary, and the Museum of Memories- which was a dedication to the victims during former President Pinochet’s military regime from 1973-1990. On our last day in country, we volunteered in a nursing home. We coordinated through the chaplain at the Escuela Militar in order to offer our efforts to the community; the chaplain recommended that we come and assist those in the home. There, we escorted the residents to religious service, cleaned windows, and conversed with individuals about our infatuation with their country.
In interviewing several Chilean cadets and officers, we were able to answer three questions: 1.) How did your expectations for American Cadets compare with the experiences that you shared with us during these weeks? 2.) Why did you join the academy? 3.) Where do you see yourself in ten years? Many cadets answered that they were surprised at how friendly the U.S. Cadets were and at our desire to learn the similarities and differences between our Army’s doctrines and theirs.
As to answer the second question- many cadets joined for different reasons. Many joined to follow in the footsteps of parents and grandparents who were in the military; others joined because they had always been curious. One difference between their academy and ours is that once they commission they will all serve their entire careers in the Army, whereas we only have a minimum obligation of 6-8 years (depending on the contract).
It seems that all ROTC Cadets and Chilean cadets learned something from this mission. All U.S. Army ROTC Cadets improved their Spanish-speaking abilities as well as providing the opportunity to improve the English-speaking abilities of Chilean cadets. However most importantly, we learned that other countries’ armies often operate almost identically to ours. Discipline, attention to detail, overall common doctrine, dedication, strength and desire to succeed are all present in the Escuela Militar and Chilean Army. This will be an experience that we will take with us for the rest of our lives and the relationships that we have established here will surely be re-kindled at some point in our military careers.