During the summer of 2012, I had the pleasure of attending a “military to military” trip in Brazil. I started off the trip with a five day stay at Fort Knox, Ky., at which our group spent our time receiving medicine, medical information, briefings about CULP trips in general, briefings about Brazil, and of course, PT! The time spent at Fort Knox was well spent and definitely better prepared our group for our trip to Brazil. Then, after months of talking about it, I was finally in country.
Right away the differences in lifestyles were tremendous. Brazil’s culture is so different than ours that at first it was hard to fathom. As soon as we touched down at the airport in Sao Paulo, I could hear the chatter of people speaking Portuguese; I was in for a cultural experience unlike any other. We met our translator, Helene, and her 6’ 10” brother, Denis—you could say he was a gentle giant and an incredibly nice man. After a few hours of waiting for our second team to arrive, we were off to the races to experience life in Brazil.
Driving down the highway, everyone was staring at the windows both admiring the beauty of the country and in awe of some of the poverty we could see in the communities (more commonly known as Favelas). We continued to move to our final destination for that first day in country, and this is precisely when we had our first run-in with the food.
Before I describe the type of food we ate, one must understand that the service at restaurants in Brazil is beyond impeccable. The waiters and waitresses are always near to satisfy your dining needs. It was amazing. Anyway, the first meal we had was unlike anything I have ever eaten before. Besides the simple rice, beans, and meat that I had eaten before, all of the other food was brand new to my palate. No one could read Portuguese so that meant everyone would blindly grab food from the buffet-style line and see how it was. Put simply, the food was strange, but absolutely delicious. We enjoyed our time in the civilian aspect of Brazil, but then it was time for some Brazilian military exposure.
First we stayed three nights with the Brazilian Air Force cadets. Immediately, we were accepted into their lifestyle and began to experience their day-to-day lives. Although the Air Force Academy was an awesome time, what I really think was the most beneficial learning experience was at the Brazilian Military Academy near Black Needle Mountain. Upon our arrival at the academy, the officers had a lot of activities planned so that we could learn about the academy and their army as a whole. They provided us with tours of the academy grounds while at the same time going into detail about the deep-rooted history of the Brazilian army. Not only were these tours and briefings insightful, they were amazing. Prior to listening to what the Brazilian officers had to say, my ignorance of Brazil’s military allowed me to believe that they weren’t one to be taken seriously. I was wrong.
The cadets at the academy lived a very stringent lifestyle that allowed them little to no free time, and that free time could be taken away in a moment’s notice because of strict rules and strict punishment. Although it seemed painfully stern at times, the discipline that was poured into the cadet’s lives was definitely with good cause. I have never seen drill and ceremony done so perfectly by so many people. Before every meal, the cadets would fill the parade ground in the courtyard of a whole building, and upon the command of a bugle player, all of the cadets would march into the building for chow while booming cadences in Portuguese. It was an awesome sight. Although this was cool, it by no means is what defined their Army.
Along with the drill and ceremony and the strict rules, there was the specialties of the cadets. In the United States Army, officers attend Basic Officer Leadership Course after their commissioning. In the Brazilian Army, the cadets choose their branch at the end of their second year, and then they spend the next two years specializing in that branch; and specialize they did. We were able to see multiple instances of the capabilities of these third and fourth year cadets.
First, we got to sit in on their version of an OPORD. They had a fourth year cadet who was the company commander of an infantry unit briefing his four platoon leaders. During this brief, I had the pleasure of sitting at the table with the platoon leaders (by coincidence), allowing me to observe the notes they were taking and the questions they were asking. Although all of this was done in Portuguese, the academy provided a translator so that we could understand the mission.
In a nut shell, the infantry company would conduct an assault on an objective in order to destroy the “enemy.” So far this is similar to what we do in ROTC, but this is where the specialization of the third and fourth years comes into play. The objective was relatively far away, and to get there the cadets used a convoy. Not only did the convoy carry the infantry company, it carried attached platoons of cadets who were specializing in communications, intelligence, and more. The whole mission was a largely coordinated one that forced cadets to apply the knowledge of their specialty and the most realistic way possible. In all, the mission took five days. Three days of conducting movement and actions on the objective, one day of an After Action Report, and one day to march back to the academy calling cadences and celebrating the completion of a huge mission.
The second demonstration we got to see of the Brazilian cadets in action was a live-fire demonstration by the cadets in the armor and field artillery. We were just feet away as the cadets fired 105 mm and 155 mm howitzer rounds at the mountainside. It was exhilarating, perhaps almost as exhilarating as when the cadets fired mortar rounds over our heads! No one was expecting it, but the cadets were approximately 100 meters behind us firing mortar rounds onto the mountainside as well. We heard the distinct popping noise of the round being launched from behind us, and just a few seconds later, saw an explosion on the mountain in front of us.
All of these demonstrations allowed us to see the proficiency of the cadets. But along with what we observed firsthand, there were many other attributes of the Brazilian military that we learned while at the academies. I now know that the Brazilian military is definitely one that we can depend on if it comes down to it. I also know that if I want to go on an awesome vacation, I am going to Brazil. CULP really allowed me to expand my knowledge about American and Brazilian cultures and their militaries. It was definitely an experience I will never forget, and of course an experience I will reference to for knowledge and application of many different things in the future.