Brazil’s Air Cadets Preparatory School Opens Its Doors to Women
By Taciana Moury/Diálogo April 06, 2017Eloá Rodrigues de Lima, Ana Carolina Félix Barbosa, and Laniz França Machado Sartorelli are making history at the Air Cadets Preparatory School (EPCAR, per its Portuguese acronym) in Barbacena in the interior of Minas Gerais state. The three are among 17 other women in the first female class at the military institute of secondary education. Established 68 years ago, its mission is to prepare students for admission to the first year of Aviator Officer Training at the Air Force Academy (AFA). According to the Department of Aeronautical Education (DEPENS, per its Portuguese acronym), the school opened its doors to women to further develop coed rights and responsibilities. The Brazilian Air Force (FAB, per its Portuguese acronym), has been a pioneer in female inclusion. As far back as 1996, there were already spots available at AFA for the quartermaster officers’ corps. Then in 2002 spots for aeronautical specialists opened up. In 2003 spots were made available for female pilots at AFA. Women have joined FAB since 1992, serving in technical squadrons, and in health care. The opportunity that opened in 2017 did not go unnoticed by women across Brazil. There were 3,480 applications for 20 openings or nearly 174 candidates per vacancy. The women reported to the school at the start of the year for an adaptation period, and they are now integrated into the routine, together with the 153 men in their class. According to DEPENS, these female students have adapted quite well to the academic structure at EPCAR, in terms of both their achievement in the classroom and their physical and military performance, as well as their compatibility working alongside male students. Curriculum EPCAR’s academic curriculum adheres to the high school standards set by the Brazilian Ministry of Education. The content is supplemented by classic military subjects focused on military history and the world of aviation in general, as well as field activities, with survival skills and techniques for ground deployment. Marching in single file, professional military ethics, physical training, and sports are also part of the school’s program. The daily routine for these 20 young women is the same as for the other students. “Activities are done together, without any distinction of gender, race, creed, or origin,” DEPENS emphasized in a press release. Rodrigues, 17, said that there is no discrimination of any kind. “No one gets any special or differential treatment,” she said. It was her passion for military life that led her to enroll in EPCAR. She hopes for a career as a FAB pilot. “It’s a total rush. We’re always motivated and it’s great to see our efforts acknowledged when we do well in our daily parade.”. Also age 17, Barbosa was used to military life. Coming from a military family, she also chose EPCAR in an attempt to get a spot at AFA. “We do our activities together, like physical education.” For this student, living with her squadron is the most difficult part. “This experience has been great, but there are moments of difficulty and uncertainty,” she said. Sartorelli chose EPCAR because she was inspired by her father, who is a member of FAB. She grew up at Santa Maria Air Force Base and has always wanted to be in aviation. The 18-year-old student explained how challenging it is to balance military life with her studies. “These first months have been hard because we lose a lot of sleep, and therefore, are very tired. But gradually, we’re getting used to it.” In spite of the demands, the student says that she is very happy at the school, mainly because she is in the first female class. “This incredible experience is teaching us new lessons, with group trips and interactions. We’re testing ourselves to the max, both physically and psychologically. But this will make us stronger and more prepared to become FAB officers.” Another pioneer is Captain Carla Alexandre Borges, who enrolled in the first class of female pilots at AFA, and celebrated the young women’s admission at EPCAR. “This is one more barrier that has been broken down, one more door that has been opened,” she stated. Capt. Borges was the first woman to pilot a fighter jet in Brazil, and feels that a career in the military is exciting but requires a lot of dedication. “I hope they go on to brilliant careers and that tomorrow they too are role models for many other women.” Training To be able to admit female students, EPCAR went through a redesign of its facilities and its academics. According to information from DEPENS, the physical facilities, such as restrooms, were adapted for women. The Student Guide was also updated to cover items such as romantic relationships and the regulations for women’s civilian clothing when traveling between the school and the city of Barbacena. In the area of military practice, DEPENS says that the only modification that needed to be done was the introduction of female charts for the Physical Fitness Test in the Evaluation Plan, which is conducted each semester for the purpose of adapting the scores to the physiological differences of each gender. There was also concern about training the students’ military instructors so that they could welcome the female corps. The instructors went through a training course for teachers of military doctrine where topics such as military ethics and the pedagogy of military character were addressed. The experience of having welcomed females into other courses within FAB was also discussed, such as the details of what occurred at AFA in 1996, and in the aviator corps in 2003. EPCAR has 55 civilian professors heading up classrooms in the Training Division, and 61 military instructors. In total, 489 students, divided into three squadrons study at the school in a three-year training program. At the end of that period, they can apply for a spot at AFA. Their admission to the academy, however, depends on passing medical exams, the Military Pilot Aptitude Test, and their physical performance, among other selection criteria.