An academic exchange between the air forces of Chile and the United States paves the way for future officers of both countries.
In late November 2018, two cadets from the U.S. Air Force Academy (USAFA) will head home after spending six months at the Captain Manuel Ávalos Prado School of Aviation of the Chilean Air Force (FACh, in Spanish) in Santiago. Cadets Jackie Orcutt, 21, and David Clement, 25, studied and trained with their Chilean counterparts thanks to an academic exchange between both institutions.
The objective of the exchange was to increase interoperability between air forces through their future officers and allow them to strengthen language skills. The opportunity is a unique experience in the host nation for cadets, who, upon their return, will share lessons learned with classmates.
“It’s a very positive exchange that enables our cadets to know, interact, and understand how military and academic instruction is carried out [in another country],” said FACh Lieutenant Colonel Sergio Valencia Burgos, commandant of the group at the School of Aviation. “They make mutual contributions and [create] new knowledge and experiences.”
Daily routine at the Aviation School
For one semester, the fourth-year U.S. cadets joined their Chilean counterparts in traditional academic courses in science and humanities subjects, as well as specialized courses in the aeronautics field, such as engineering, anti-aircraft defense, telecommunications, and informatics, among others. The exchange requires participants to follow classmates’ daily routine, sharing dorms, meals, and recreational activities, in addition to learning programs. The experience, both cadets said, has been positive.
“I like the meat in this country, all kinds of steak,” Cadet Clement told Diálogo. “[I like] interacting with other cadets […], learning the differences and similarities of both countries. It’s very interesting. We spend a lot of time talking to other people every day here.”
Cadet Orcutt’s experience has been “delightful.” She highlighted the opportunity to improve her Spanish and get familiar with colloquial Chilean Spanish.
“I’m getting to know more ‘chilenismos,’” Cadet Orcutt said. “We’ve learned a lot about the culture, and every day I find more similarities our countries share. It’s been really fun.”
USAFA cadets also put physical fitness to the test through training, sports, and survival campaigns, taking advantage of Chile’s extreme geography. In July and August, the cadets traveled to the snow-capped mountains in the center of the country, and continued on to the Atacama Desert in the north to carry out two survival campaigns, as part of the Aviation School’s curriculum.
“During their stay, they take part in two campaigns: the Snowy Terrain Survival Campaign, which is part of the second year curriculum, and the Desert Survival Campaign, done in the third year,” Lt. Col. Valencia told Diálogo. “Both seek for cadets to practice behavior that would help them manage stress, security, trust and tolerance, character building, leadership, and intelligence to solve situations that come up.”
The Snowy Terrain Survival Campaign, conducted July 2nd-14th, enabled cadets to recognize and differentiate among the characteristics and use of equipment in snowy terrain. Students learned basic ski techniques, how to march with snowshoes, build shelters, and prepare meals.
During the desert campaign of August 3rd-10th, cadets emulated the hundreds of kilometers the Chilean Army covered for the 1879 Battle of Dolores during the Pacific War. In the expedition, students applied techniques and procedures in a real survival situation and enhanced values such as resilience and camaraderie.
The campaigns and the academic program surprised U.S. cadets, despite the stories of 2017 exchange participants. “We like the campaigns a lot; [they are] interesting,” Cadet Clement said. “I heard it’s a very tough program, but very good, and I heard FACh is very professional and good, especially for its campaigns.”
Strengthening bonds of friendship
Upon graduating in May 2019, the USAFA cadets hope to keep sharing experiences with Latin American partner nations while serving their country. Cadet Clement aspires to become a special operations officer in the Air Force, while Cadet Orcutt wishes to be a helicopter pilot.
“We are going to be officers, and that’s great, because we have good friends in Chile who will become officers. If we have a future opportunity to work here, we will know different things and customs that could be helpful,” Cadet Orcutt said. “This will facilitate the understanding between the countries and our armed forces.”
The exchange program dates back to 2000 and has been conducted nonstop with two cadets per year from USAFA and FACh’s Aviation School. So far, 32 U.S. cadets, including those of 2018, took part in the program, while 37 Chilean cadets traveled to the state of Colorado to attend courses at USAFA.
“The exchange program with the United States is ongoing in several aspects and areas not only at the Aviation School level, but also at the institutional level,” Lt. Col. Valencia concluded. “In general, the experience is very well received, which helps both institutions strengthen bonds and support each other to benefit those who are starting out as military airmen.”