When U.S. Air Force Senior Airman Caleb Lapinel showed up to attend Brazil’s Jungle Warfare Training School in September 2020, he met special forces soldiers from Spain, Egypt, and Indonesia; paratroopers from Paraguay; amphibious infantrymen from Nigeria, and a Kaibil special operator from Guatemala whose motto is: “ If I advance follow me, if I stop urge me on, if I retreat, kill me.”
“I was worried about that in the beginning,” Senior Airman Lapinel said.
“I said, ‘Wow, I’m surrounded by this bunch of paratroopers and Special Forces; the best of the best from their countries,” he recalled.
Senior Airman Lapinel, on the other hand, is an intelligence analyst for the New York Air National Guard’s 109th Airlift Wing, which specializes in flying to Antarctica and Greenland.
He was also at least five years younger than the rest of the class.
Seven weeks later, Senior Airman Lapinel not only graduated from the demanding course, but was also granted one of the awards that go to two students each training cycle.
“That was awesome. I was not expecting that at all.” Senior Airman Lapinel said. “I got the flag that we always carried around during the course.”
Each year Brazil’s Jungle Warfare Center, (Centro de Instrução de Guerra na Selva or CIGS, in Portuguese) hosts a class for non-Brazilians. Founded in 1964, CIGS is now considered the world’s premier jungle training center.
Because the New York National Guard has a relationship with Brazil’s military through the State Partnership Program, Brazil invites New York guardsmen to the school in Manaus, the capital of Amazonas state.
In 2019, U.S. Army Guard Staff Sergeant Thomas Carpenter, a 38-year-old infantryman and Ranger School graduate, finished the jungle training course. This year, it was 22-year-old Senior Airman Lapinel.
He made it through the Air Force Survival, Resistance, Escape, and Evasion course, and he’s in good shape, but he knew more about making PowerPoint slides than infantry tactics, Senior Airman Lapinel admitted.
Despite Senior Airman Lapinel’s lack of infantry experience, New York Air National Guard Command Chief Master Sergeant Denny Richardson said he was confident the Watervliet, New York resident would do well.
“The first time I met Airman Lapinel I was impressed by his professionalism and ability to perform under pressure without hesitation,” Master Sgt. Richardson said. “This young man is comfortable being uncomfortable.”
The international course, which is taught in English, is divided into four parts.
At the end of the six weeks, Senior Airman Lapinel and the other international students were awarded the CIGS jaguar badge.
In addition to being a personal victory, Senior Airman Lapinel’s success at the course helped build the relationship between the U.S. and Brazilian militaries, said Lieutenant Colonel Rob Santamaria, the Army section chief at the U.S. Embassy in Brazil.
“Senior Airman Lapinel’s graduation continues to strengthen the U.S. military’s relationship with the Brazilian military and reinforces the commitment that the New York National Guard has to the State Partnership with Brazil,” Lt. Col. Santamaria said.