Near the end of December 2017, four cadets from the Chilean Navy's Arturo Prat Naval Academy returned home after spending six months at the U.S. Naval Academy (USNA) in Annapolis, Maryland. The second year cadets, Gabriel Olave, Agustín Riquelme, Lucas González, and Nicolás Monrás, earned their spot with academic prowess and high level of English.
Among the objectives of the binational exchange: strengthening interoperability between both countries' naval forces, and improving linguistic ability. The program also seeks to provide the educational experience at another school and the opportunity to benefit from the other country's knowledge. Second year cadets with excellent academic performance and conduct, in addition to knowledge of the language, may participate in the rigorous selection process.
“This program has been very positive, as it provides an incentive for our cadets, who apply for these types of exchanges, to excel,” Chilean Navy Lieutenant Commander Gonzalo Palma Ruz, head of the Chilean Naval Academy’s 2017 exchange program, told Diálogo. The academic exchange, he added, successfully demonstrates that “those who go above and beyond likely earn the most credits to opt for this great career opportunity.”
For one semester, the Chilean students took on the USNA routine and studied with their American counterparts. They studied subjects such as navigation, calculus, physics, and leadership, and participated in athletic and cultural activities. At the same time, five USNA cadets studied at the Chilean Naval Academy.
“An Excellent Experience”
The Chilean cadets arrived in Annapolis in July 2017 to participate in a weeklong academic instruction in preparation for their first mission—a 15-day trip along the northeastern coast of the U.S. Embarking on USNA Yard Patrol boats, the cadets took on various positions while docking at the ports of Baltimore, Philadelphia, New York, and Boston.
“It was an excellent experience to visit those ports, and that first academic week was our first contact with the cadets and professors, who, for the most part, are active-duty officers,” Cadet Riquelme said. “We had to learn the technical terms of everything related to boats, and we worked in positions such as radar technician, lookout, navigator, and helmsman. All the orders were in English, but they weren't in the English you learn in class—it's more technical.”
The exchange program also included professional visits encompassing the various aspects of naval officer training. Among other activities, the cadets visited the Pentagon and Norfolk Naval Base, and embarked from port into the nuclear-powered USS Gerald R. Ford aircraft carrier.
The large scale of USNA—with a campus of 137 hectares and an enrollment of about 4,500—surprised Chilean students. Founded in 1845, USNA is the second oldest of the five U.S. military academies.
“The truth is that the Naval Academy in Annapolis is completely different from the Naval Academy in Chile,” said Cadet Olave. “It has a lot of green spaces to play sports and so many classroom buildings. Of the four of us who did the exchange, none of us saw it all. It's really big.”
With respect to academic obligations, the cadets found similarities but emphasized the dedication of their American counterparts. “As in our school, the most important thing is to pass the academic courses,” Cadet Riquelme said. “[At USNA], it takes four years to earn a degree. The academic load is highly demanding. There are cadets who are earning a degree in nuclear engineering and there isn’t a day that they don't go to bed at 2 or 3 in the morning, studying seven days a week.”
The annual Chile–U.S academic exchange began in 2007 in accordance with the Cadet Exchange and Cooperation Agreement between the partner nations' navies. Since that time, 31 Chilean cadets have spent a semester at USNA. In turn, 30 American cadets have studied at the Arturo Prat Naval Academy in the port of Valparaíso, some 115 kilometers northwest of Santiago.
According to Lt. Cmdr. Palma, the agreement creates a partnership among students from both nations' naval academies. “This exchange is a means for relationship building, which can be generally understood as a basic activity relating to the common ties established through academic, cultural, athletic, technological, and professional means,” he explained. Likewise, the navies forge lasting ties between future officers who share common objectives and contribute to their institutions in a different way because of their experiences.
“Our two navies perform several joint exercises, and this type of exchange builds many ties which will be maintained into the future,” Cadet Olave said. “I spoke with many [U.S.] officers who learned about Chile through joint exercises, and this reaffirmed the decision I made years ago to become a seaman. And here I am. This is what I want to do.”
Cadet Riquelme knows that the experience goes beyond those six months he spent at a U.S. military school. “I know that, at some point in my career, I will meet up with [my American schoolmates] again,” he concluded. “This will facilitate communication and understanding in the professional environment.”