Female Officer Breaks Stereotypes in Paraguayan Armed Forces
By Geraldine Cook/Diálogo July 02, 2018With a shaved head, camouflaged face, and a 25-kilogram backpack on, Paraguayan Navy Lieutenant Junior Grade Magali Elisa María Caballero Prieto is ready for action. She is physically and mentally prepared to take on the tasks of a marine willing to risk her life for a mission.
With this mind frame, Lt. j.g. Caballero enrolled in the Paraguayan Navy’s Advanced Marine Course (CAVIM, in Spanish). During 14 weeks of intensive field, firearms, and survival skills training, she completed the harsh training on an equal footing with her peers. Her courage made her the first woman in the Paraguayan Armed Forces to graduate from CAVIM, a course only men attended until 2017.
Lt. j.g. Caballero breaks traditional female stereotypes. Her combat expertise says it all. As a pioneer in the Paraguayan Navy, she has no military female role model to emulate. “Personally, it’s an honor. But beyond what it means to me, I think of what it means for military women,” she says. By tackling CAVIM, she opened doors for military women in her country to follow a new professional path.
“It was a very intense and difficult training,” she says. She remembers having some apprehension when she enrolled in CAVIM, but her determination was stronger. Although she recognizes men might be physically stronger, women with tenacity and dedication can reach their goals. “If men are stronger and many of them cannot graduate, how could a woman do it?” she wondered. In April 2017, the course started with 22 students—she and a female companion were the only women. Only eight students finished the program. Lt. j.g. Caballero stood out.
The Paraguayan Navy holds CAVIM annually since 2012. The advanced course includes tactical training, where strength, dexterity, and endurance are key elements for survival. Being perfectly fit and able to adapt to inhospitable environments, explore enemy territory, and work in a team are among the requirements to complete this training. Every year, 20 to 30 candidates register, but fewer than 10 graduate.
“The goal of the course is to prepare personnel to conduct riverine, rural guerrilla, and counter terrorism operations, as well as provide security for dignitaries, among others,” Lt. j.g. Caballero said. “You must have the conviction and predisposition to adapt to hostile situations to which the female staff is traditionally not accustomed to,” she said. Her spontaneous smile betrays her pride for women’s role in the Navy. She does what she enjoys, and she does it well. Hence her success.
“Everybody was surprised when I enrolled in CAVIM,” she says while divulging that her companions didn’t think she would last, even though they never told her so. “I wanted to prove my capabilities to myself.” Reaching her goal was no easy task. She questioned her own decision mostly due to physical exhaustion, but didn’t give up. “At 3:00 a.m. with a temperature of 8 degrees [Celsius], wet, stone cold... many things come into consideration. At the end of the training, only the best team remains.”
Dreams yet to come
Lt. j.g. Caballero goes over her path, and feels that completing CAVIM was her duty. “I couldn’t say ‘I’m a combatant’ without having a thorough knowledge of what it really means to be a marine,” she says.
She belongs to the Navy by military tradition. The uniforms in her childhood home endeared her to military badges. Her father, the late Paraguayan Navy Admiral Miguel Ángel Caballero Della Loggia, taught her discipline and respect for military values.
“I would see my father coming back from work with his military uniform on, and I wanted to be like him.” Her brothers, Paraguayan Navy lieutenant commanders Marithe and Miguel Caballero, guided her military vocation. Thankful for the support of her family, Lt. j.g. Caballero keeps in mind that CAVIM was her goal yet that of her family as well.
Lt. j.g. Caballero was already a pioneer in the Paraguayan Armed Forces. Only five years after Mariscal Francisco Solano López Military Academy—which trains Paraguayan officers for the Army, Navy, and Air Forces—opened its doors to women, Lt. j.g Caballero stood out as one of the best students of her class. She was selected to study at the Naval Military Academy of Buenos Aires, Argentina.
In 2006, Lt. j.g Caballero became the first Navy cadet to represent her country abroad. Months prior, only men attended the combatant specialty she had elected, until six female cadets signed up in November 2005. In 2011, after five years of study, she graduated as a midshipman officer in the neighboring country. Back in Paraguay, she was assigned to the Marine Command, and other military units from then on.
Today, Lt. j.g. Caballero is commandant of CAVIM and heads the Marine Corps Instruction Command headquarters. Based on her experience, she trains students on communications, topography, and shooting techniques. “I want to develop marine capabilities to the fullest, because we go to the theater of operations, and we must go well-prepared. This training can save lives.”
At only 32-year-old, Lt. j.g. Caballero set herself on an unstoppable military career path that will continue onward. “Military women want to grow professionally without gender distinction,” she says. “We are ready to assume new risks and responsibilities.” Her new challenge is to earn the admiral badges her father once wore.