At 5 a.m., reveille plays in the barracks of the Mariscal Francisco Solano López Military Academy (ACADEMIL, in Spanish). Among the students awakening at the sound of the call is Paraguayan Navy Cadet Aldana Belén Almada Britez. “I’m very proud to attend ACADEMIL,” said Cadet Almada, a fourth-year Quartermaster student. “I had heard that military life wasn’t for women, that we had no edge in this professional field, but today women are showing that we can, that we increasingly break into areas we supposedly were unable to perform.”
“The gender issue is open in our military,” Paraguayan Army Cadet María Carolina Molas Acosta, a fourth-year Communications student, said. “We are on equal terms; we demonstrate our capabilities, we carry out the same activities, and we reach the highest level.”
ACADEMIL trains Paraguayan Army, Air Force, and Navy officers. Founded in 1915 as the Military Academy, it took on the name of Mariscal Francisco Solano López in 1948, and officially became ACADEMIL in 1995. The academy, located in Capiatá, east of Asunción, opened its doors to women cadets in 2002. Of an annual average of 450 students, 20 percent are women.
“The enrollment of female cadets has been very important to ACADEMIL,” said Paraguayan Army Brigadier General Víctor Agustín Laguardia Lovera, commandant of ACADEMIL. “Their admission represented a challenge in every field for the institution. Logistics had to be changed to include proper accommodations and disciplinary rules were modified as well, among other changes.”
In its 103-year history, ACADEMIL has trained Paraguayan officers who’ve occupied the highest positions in the country’s military. The academy is accredited by the Ministry of Education and Culture to grant professional degrees.
“My challenge is to motivate students, and give them the confidence to become military leaders in the near future,” Brig. Gen. Laguardia said. “ACADEMIL provides the necessary lessons to do so.”
The institution offers 15 academic specialties that cadets choose in their second year. Army cadets select between Infantry, Cavalry, Artillery, Engineering, Communications, Quartermaster, and Warfare Material. Navy cadets elect among Combat, Engineering, and Quartermaster specialties. Air Force cadets can train as pilots, but also specialize in Infantry, Quartermaster, Warfare Material, and Communications. Upon finishing the four-year course of military studies, cadets graduate as second lieutenants or midshipmen, depending on their military branch. They all receive a degree in Military Sciences.
“Female cadets perform the same activities as male cadets,” said Paraguayan Army First Lieutenant José Javier López López, first-year instructor at ACADEMIL. “There are instances in which female cadets stand out, and others in which they make a greater effort.”
“I chose a military career because I wanted to know what it meant to serve my country,” said Paraguayan Air Force Cadet Monica Paredes, a fourth-year Communications student. “My challenge is to graduate and gain additional professional experience in my military branch to be able to help other women in their training.” Classes include theoretical and hands on training. The syllabus revision plan is underway.
ACADEMIL is a prestigious institution for aspiring military career officers. Of the 800 yearly applicants, only 100 are admitted. Among them, 20 percent are women. “There’s a yearly limited quota for women. In my section there are three female engineers,” said Paraguayan Army Cadet Alba Marissa Cubilla Aguayo, a fourth-year Engineering student. “I come from a military family and I don’t regret being here. Women can have military careers.”
For Paraguayan Air Force Cadet Verónica Olmedo, a third-year pilot student, being part of a military academy is a dream come true. “I dreamed of being part of my country’s Air Force since I was a child,” she said. Cadet Olmedo wants to set an example for other young candidates to follow a military career. “I’m proud of what I do. We show that being able to do things isn’t gender-related. It has to do with the determination to achieve our dreams.”
Her classmate, Paraguayan Air Force Cadet Lorena Alejandra Ortiz Vieira, shares the ideal of serving with discipline, sacrifice, and love for their country. “Before being admitted to ACADEMIL, I had a different opinion of military life,” she said. “The will to pursue a military career drives you forward and makes you overcome all daily trials, education, discipline, etc.”
The day ends at 8:00 p.m., when students gather for retreat, a symbolic act to pay tribute to national heroes. “This is a career with great sacrifice and dedication, because you come here with the vocation to serve your country,” Cadet Molas said. “You must be convinced that you want to wear the uniform; olive green is like our second skin.”