Three cadets of the U.S. Air Force Academy (USAFA) attend the Brazilian Air Force Academy (AFA) since early August 2017. Cadets Pablo Steven Vespasiano, Maxwell Richard Heefner, and Aleigh Morgan Maclean are pioneers of an exchange between the two countries meant to improve foreign language skills and increase interoperability among air forces. They will stay in Brazil through December, the end of AFA’s academic year.
For five months, the American students joined AFA daily routine in Pirassununga, in the state of São Paulo, attending courses such as Aerodynamics, Economics, Leadership, Personnel Management, and Military History, as well as activities related to military doctrine. The students were selected among cadets who studied Portuguese. “To participate in the exchange, you need to speak the language well, and you have to have good grades and be in good physical condition,” Cadet Vespasiano said.
The American students chose Brazil for the opportunity to learn how another air force operates. “Portugal was also an option, but it was at a civilian school. I wanted to have a different kind of military experience, learning the doctrine and routine of Brazilian cadets,” Cadet Heefner explained.
At USAFA, Brazilian Air Force (FAB, per its Portuguese acronym) Lieutenant Colonel Saint-Clair Lima da Silva—an instructor at the academy’s departments of Foreign Languages and Political Sciences—prepared cadets from early January to early July 2017. “We had a one-hour class several times a week to talk about AFA and Brazil’s lifestyle,” Cadet Heefner said. Brazilian music, videos on Brazil on the internet, and films served as sources of information for the students. “I would watch children’s movies dubbed in Portuguese. Since I already knew the plot, it was easier to understand,” Cadet Mclean said.
Adaptating to Brazil
The first weeks at AFA were an adjustment period for the U.S. cadets. They attended classes in Brazilian culture, Brazilian history, FAB history, military routine, and the grading method for subjects taught at the academy. “Although they were juniors in the United States, they came in as seniors here. They stayed in separate quarters with Brazilian roommates to facilitate adjustment to the language,” said FAB Captain Marcelo da Silva dos Santos, instructor at the Fenrir Squadron that received the cadets.
“The first days, I didn’t understand anything anyone was saying. The accent here is very different from my Brazilian professor’s back at USAFA,” Cadet Vespasiano said. “It was daunting at first. We had a lot of activities, and we didn’t understand Portuguese very well,” Cadet Maclean said. According to Capt. Silva Santos, this initial difficulty with the language was expected. “No matter how much someone might study a language, when they come to live in the place, there’s a colloquial vocabulary they have to adapt to. But their roommates helped them through the process,” he said.
Capt. Silva Santos noted the U.S. cadets’ personal qualities and their willingness to be involved in school activities. “In all activities, they demonstrated satisfactory performance, especially in the physical area,” he said. The cadets quickly adapted to AFA’s military doctrine, he added.
AFA versus USAFA
The cadets felt the differences between the two academies in the early days. “Here at AFA, sports are mandatory, and the military aspect is very demanding,” Cadet Heefner said. For him, the classes at USAFA are more participatory. “Students ask more questions. We also have more laboratory sessions and research projects,” he said.
“In the summer, we do exercises such as camping and survival at sea or in the jungle. But, here at AFA, those training events are woven into the academics,” Cadet Vespasiano said. For him, some subjects have a different depth. “Here in Brazil, Aerodynamics is aimed at training pilots, with a focus on aviation. At USAFA, it’s more complex, geared toward the engineering field,” he explained.
AFA currently offers courses in Aviator Officer Training, Logistics Officer Training, and Infantry Officer Training, all of which are four-year programs. Aviators begin pilot training in their sophomore year and learn to fly the T-25 Universal with 34 graded missions, logging close to 36 flight hours in a year. Aviation cadets return to flying in their senior year, logging 75 hours over 64 missions aboard the T-27 Tucano. First, they must complete three standard and emergency procedures missions in a flight simulator.
Lt. Col. Saint-Clair explained that USAFA strongly emphasizes prior reading, analysis, and classroom debates, which entails a heavy study load. On the other hand, air exercises are mainly meant to motivate cadets to fly. The course consists of about 20 hours of classroom instruction and nearly 13 flight hours, spread among 10 takeoffs and landings, ending with a solo flight. “Hardly anyone fails the course, and cadets practice takeoffs, landings, approximations, stalls (loss of lift), abnormal attitudes, and simulated glitches,” he explained. Once they pass the training, selected officers who chose aviation must undergo an “initial flight screening” for 40 days in Pueblo, Colorado.
Advantages of the exchange
The exchange with USAFA, said Capt. Silva Santos, is very positive for AFA. “It’s an opportunity to better understand the training of the most important air force in the world, which is at the forefront of doctrinal and technological development,” he said. For Lt. Col. Saint-Clair, the chance to be exposed to different perspectives on military and academic officer training is a big advantage.
The U.S. cadets also noted the benefits of their experience. “Today, I can understand how the Brazilian chain of command functions and what its training objectives are,” Cadet Heefner said, adding that he will miss the food and excursions. “I got to see several regions of Brazil, such as Rio de Janeiro, Foz do Iguaçu, Salvador, and Minas Gerais, the country’s historical region.”
Cadet Vespasiano was surprised by the people’s graciousness and the country’s natural beauty. As for Cadet Maclean, lessons learned during survival training at sea stood out. “It was hard being in the waves for 48 hours. But I found it interesting to see how officers served right alongside cadets and their subordinates during the exercise,” she said.
The Brazilian cadets took the opportunity to practice their English and gain new knowledge from their foreign colleagues. “They have a very different view with regard to warfare. They need to be ready for real-world situations, as they’re from a country involved in some conflicts,” said FAB Cadet Mariana Dutra.
Brazilian cadets at USAFA
Brazilian cadets studying at USAFA strictly follow the routine of the cadets at the academy and are subject to the same restrictions and privileges, just like the U.S. cadets at AFA. They study five subjects chosen according to their training programs—Aviation, Logistics, or Infantry—that contribute to their training as Air Force officers, such as asymmetric warfare and leadership development, among others.
According to Lt. Col. Saint-Clair, the Brazilian cadets adjusted quite well to the routine at USAFA. “Today, our cadets are among the best students in their subject of study. For example, Aviation Cadet Christian Eloysio Silva scored the highest grade average of the more than 1,000 cadets at USAFA who take the Air Power and Military Profession course,” he said.
Logistics Cadet Michelle de Mattos also scored well, earning the third highest grade in the Production, Operations, and Supply Chain Management course. Aviation Cadet Diego Bertolo and Infantry Cadet Felipe Cazuza came in first place in sports competitions held within USAFA.
Lt. Col. Saint-Clair highlighted the privilege for Brazilian cadets to study for six months at one of the best educational institutions in the United States. “This climate of excellence in teaching is learned and taken back to Brazil, allowing for critical evaluation of our own officer training paradigms and methods,” he said. “The potential to forge bonds with U.S. cadets surely will bear fruit in a few years when these young cadets lead their air forces,” he concluded.