Mission Haiti and The Loss of a Friend

Mission Haiti and The Loss of a Friend

Por Dialogo
fevereiro 01, 2010

To be selected to participate in peace missions abroad is considered a distinction among Latin American military personnel. For the majority, it is not the salary in American dollars that attracts them, but the possibility of raising the profile of their countries abroad, as well as participating in humanitarian and peacemaking actions. Deaths are rare in these situations. With the earthquake that devastated Haiti on January 12, this has changed. Brazil, which has led the peace mission in Haiti for almost six years, had more than 1,200 military personnel in the country at the time of the tragedy. Eighteen of them did not survive.

To be selected to participate in peace missions abroad is considered a distinction among Latin American military personnel. For the majority, it is not the salary in American dollars that attracts them, but the possibility of raising the profile of their countries abroad, as well as participating in humanitarian and peacemaking actions. Deaths are rare in these situations. With the earthquake that devastated Haiti on January 12, this has changed. Brazil, which has led the peace mission in Haiti for almost six years, had more than 1,200 military personnel in the country at the time of the tragedy. Eighteen of them did not survive. To discuss what it means for a member of the military to lose a friend – Colonel Emilio Carlos Torres Santos, married, 2 daughters – who dedicated his life to saving the lives of others, Diálogo magazine talked to Lieutenant Col. Fernando de Galvão e Albuquerque Montenegro, the head of the Education Department of the Center for Jungle Warfare Instruction (CIGS – Centro de Instrução de Guerra na Selva), responsible for managing the process of training Brazil’s jungle warriors and international students from various military units from all over the world. *Diálogo* – How many years have you and Colonel Emilio been friends, and how did you meet each other? *Colonel Montenegro* – He was in my class starting at the Colégio Militar in Rio de Janeiro, in 1977, but our friendship strengthened when we both went to the Military Academy of Agulhas Negras (AMAN – Academia Militar das Agulhas Negras). Colonel Emilio belonged to the infantry like me and also like me, was an athlete (water polo team). In other words, it was a friendship of over thirty years, and he was a person whom I admired enormously. *Diálogo* – How did you learn of his death? *Colonel Montenegro* – I am based in Manaus, in Amazonas state, but I was on vacation in Rio de Janeiro and met other comrades at the Army School of Physical Education, some of whom were getting ready to go to Haiti. They were the ones to break the news to me. It was a shock. *Diálogo* – Obviously, the loss of a close friend is very painful. Is there any comfort in knowing he died while performing such a noble function? *Colonel Montenegro* – It is undoubtedly comforting. We participated together in the Special Forces Battalion for a long time and performed various high-risk activities, from actions along the border against the Colombian FARC, to parachuting, free fall from high altitudes, where the use of oxygen tanks is required during the jump, and also diving in zero-visibility areas. We are prepared to face the risk and the presence of death, but we deal with it professionally and focus on what we need to do and not on what can happen. Colonel Emilio had embedded in him this sense of constant danger, and of how to deal with it. However, we never expected to lose someone so close and so used to dealing with danger, as in my case. I never think about dying when I am performing any kind of activity. *Diálogo* – What are you going to miss the most about your companionship with Colonel Emilio? *Colonel Montenegro* – The feeling of loss is very intense, because I knew him very well. He was a very serious and qualified professional. He was an idealist. He believed strongly in what he did. He had an above-average dedication to the military career. He was so experienced that he was designated commander (2007/2008) of the 26th Battalion of Parachute Infantry, one of the most important ready-response units in our Army. It was his second time participating in the Brazilian mission in Haiti, this time as the MINUSTAH Commander’s right-hand man. *Diálogo* – Do you have any information about the moment of his death? *Colonel Montenegro* – He was conducting an important MINUSTAH meeting, since the general commanding the mission was not present, inside the UN compound. When he felt the first tremors, he ran with the others, looking for a way out. He was found near the building’s exit, so that it was a matter of seconds that he didn’t make it. Another comrade, Lieutenant Col. Alexandre Santos, was near him, under the debris, with his legs caught, but he survived after a rescue that took over four hours. *Diálogo* – Did the tragedy change anything with regard to the military personnel who have already departed or will depart for Haiti? *Colonel Montenegro* – Naturally the families – and even the military personnel themselves – started to be more concerned about the mission, which will most likely generate other kinds of worries for those going there, not only regarding preparation, but also how to behave in Haiti, in the kind of setup being used there. There must be a change in psychological preparation as well. On the other hand, the earthquake increased the desire, which was already quite present among Brazilian military personnel, to participate in these kinds of missions. It is important to emphasize that, at least in Brazil, these missions abroad are voluntary, and the participants have a lot of enthusiasm. For us the important thing is not only to help, but also to continually enhance Brazil’s reputation and that of its Armed Forces abroad, as we are doing now in Haiti, in Ivory Coast, in East Timor, and as we did in Bosnia. Congratulations for this well elaborated and straight to the point interview.
After reading it I became prouder of being a son and also a grandson of a military. First of all, my condolences to the families of Colonel Emilio and Colonel Montenegro for their utmost professional conduct as officers in the Special Forces for their country, as this could happen in any other country too; given that we aren’t merely trained “to destroy” as many assume, but we also have a soul and heart forged in steel to “BUILD” whenever a global citizen is in need of… “May God watch over Coronel Umbral and make sure his Mission is completed.” I think that it is very good. because , who can tell me. what it is more important than save a human life?. they did goog job. I would first like to give my condolences to all the families who lost someone in the earthquake; it’s a situation that nobody wants experience. My husband is a military and volunteer to go to Haiti; I live in Santa Maria and last week 350 troops left the city to help the Haitian people. My husband was not selected in the first class but he remains volunteer. I am with “my heart in my hand” for him but I know we must help others and I hope and pray that soon everything returns to normal and that everyobe is in peace. Family members in ourning are sure that their loved ones are at peace together with God because they were heroes and humanitarian and made their mission honorably. I hope I am a Brazilian Army sergeant and will be shipping to Haiti in the coming days. Our mission is very noble, let’s help those people and care ourselves to get back to our country and our families wth physical and psychological integrity preserved. Our greetings and best wishes to all the volunteers, may God protect us. Brazil – All for peace! ZUM… Zaravalho… CMRJ… Emílio went as CMRJ… Memories of a CMRJ-276-Oliveira “An infant leaves the scene… others will follow…” – Lauro Almeida de Oliveira – Ex-276-CMRJ Rio, 170210 I was a soldier in 1988, my commander was Lieutenant Emilio and until today I, 43 years old, admire him and tell everybody that I never saw a person so intelligent, brave and skilled as he was. It is a pity that the Brazilian Army lost a future general, who knows he could have been one of the greatest and best generals in the whole world. Thank you. Soldier Eugenio, from the 14th Infantry Motorized Battalion, Socorro, Recife-PE. I had the privilege to have this warrior Mr. Brigade Colonel as my Commander at the 26 Bl Pqdt, and to be his official driver, as well as his family’s driver. Everyday I drove him to his apartment at Morada do Sol at Botafogo, in Rio. We used to talk a lot about the Haiti’s missions, he was very enthusiastic when he talked about them. We were stationed at the Community for 8 days, we didn’t sleep at night, had meetings with the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and he was always highly motivated. Besides being an excellent professional, he was great with his family. He spoke everyday about his daughters, little Carol and Tatiane, as well as Paula who at that time was a doctor at HCE.

I miss this Friend, the Commander. I had the privilege to have this warrior Mr. Brigade Colonel as my Commander at the 26 Bl Pqdt, and to be his official driver, as well as his family’s driver. Everyday I drove him to his apartment at Morada do Sol at Botafogo, in Rio. We used to talk a lot about the Haiti’s missions, he was very enthusiastic when he talked about them. We were stationed at the Community for 8 days, we didn’t sleep at night, had meetings with the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and he was always highly motivated. Besides being an excellent professional, he was great with his family. He spoke everyday about his daughters, little Carol and Tatiane, as well as Paula who at that time was a doctor at HCE.

I miss this Friend, the Commander.

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