U.S. Marine Corps Staff Sergeant Luis A. Camacho, a light armored vehicle platoon sergeant, broadly smiles as he sees Peruvian Marine Corps Lieutenant Colonel Eric Chocano, commander of the tactical vehicles battalion. Good friends and comrades, the two greet with a hug.
Staff Sgt. Camacho grew up in Chosica, Lima, Peru, where he spent his childhood and most of his young adult life. In 2006, after being in the United States for a short while, and knowing he had always wanted to join the military, Staff Sgt. Camacho enlisted in the Marine Corps.
“When I was little, I had an uncle who joined the Peruvian Armed Forces,” Staff Sgt. Camacho said. “A year after I was born, he went into an operation to fight narcoterrorism and he was killed in an ambush. Growing up with that story and the heroism that surrounded his legacy, I wanted to finish and accomplish what he couldn’t. I was going to join the Peruvian Armed Forces, however; I joined the U.S. Marine Corps after I came to the United States.”
Lt. Col. Chocano joined the Peruvian Marine Corps in 1997, having the desire to serve since he was a child.
“Since I was a little kid all I wanted to do was join the Peruvian Marine Corps. I would look up to them as heroes and say that’s what I wanted to be. Now, reminiscing and being a battalion commander; I love what I do and would never choose to do anything else,” Lt. Col. Chocano stated.
With the bond of their homeland and shared military experience, the two became quick friends in 2020 when Lt. Col. Chocano arrived at 1st Light Armored Reconnaissance Battalion, 1st Marine Division, as a Peruvian military advisor and exchange officer.
“I arrived to California shortly before the COVID-19 pandemic was in full-swing,” said Lt. Col. Chocano. “I was going to bring my pregnant wife with me, but the pandemic stopped that from happening. My baby was born while I was in the United States and even though it made me sad, Camacho and a couple other Peruvian-Americans welcomed me with open arms and brought me into their families, which helped me feel a little more at home.”
Having an understanding of what it’s like being in a foreign country and having a language barrier to contend with, Staff Sgt. Camacho stated he felt an instant connection and wanted to take Lt. Col. Chocano under his wing.
“Being from the same country, he struggled with the same things I did when I first came to the United States,” said Staff Sgt. Camacho. “His wife had their baby while he was in the United States during the middle of the pandemic, it sucked; but in return we grew really close and he became not only a friend, but a brother as well.”
In early 2021, Lt. Col. Chocano headed back to Peru to be with his family, while still keeping in touch with Staff Sgt. Camacho. When Staff Sgt. Camacho was told he would be going to exercise UNITAS LXII in Peru, he immediately called his friend to deliver the good news, according to Staff Sgt. Camacho.
“Being able to go back to Peru to participate in this exercise was like a dream come true,” said Staff Sgt. Camacho. “I immediately called up [Lt. Col.] Chocano and we started talking about meeting his family. When I got here with the early party, the first thing he did was greet me with a hug and introduce me to his beautiful wife and baby.”
UNITAS, which is Latin for “unity” is the world’s longest-running annual multinational maritime exercise that brings together naval forces from across the Western Hemisphere, as well as other partners and allies outside the region. UNITAS 2021 saw the participation of 21 countries to include marines and naval infantries from the United States, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, Mexico, and Peru as well as members of the Jamaican Defense Force — all training together.
Bringing together so many different nations and cultures is a huge learning experience for all parties involved, according to Lt. Col. Chocano.
“Not only did UNITAS bring me my friend,” said Lt. Col. Chocano, “it brought the opportunity for my troops to also gain lifelong friendships and experiences. They have already learned so much from the allied nations, and we’re only on day one.”
Throughout UNITAS the marines and allied service members trained together and lived together. During the day they would fast-rope, shoot weapons, and conduct humanitarian assistance disaster relief exercises together. While at night, they would play cards and laugh with one another, according to Staff Sgt. Camacho.
“Seeing the way everyone interacts with each other has been awesome,” said Staff Sgt. Camacho. “I walk into the barracks and I see young U.S. marines trading patches and playing cards with guys from every nation. Then, I see those same guys the next day shooting their weapons alongside each other. This is what UNITAS is all about, allies becoming friends, and building bonds that last a lifetime.”