MANAUS, Brazil – An Airman and a Soldier from the New York National Guard were among six Americans who completed Brazil’s Jungle Warfare School international course in November.
Air National Guard Tech. Sgt. Paul Cange and Army National Guard Cpl. Dakoatah Miller started the course Sept. 24 and finished Nov. 11.
Brazil’s Jungle Warfare Center conducts a special shortened course for foreign students each fall. This is the third time the New York National Guard has sent participants to the class at what is considered the world’s premier jungle training center.
Brazil began inviting New York National Guardsmen to the course after Brazil entered into a State Partnership Program relationship with the New York National Guard.
Army National Guard Staff Sgt. Thomas Carpenter graduated from the course in 2019 and Air National Guard Senior Airman Caleb Lapinel graduated in 2020.
“This was a volunteer basis; names were submitted through the unit,” said Cange, a full-time Joint Terminal Attack Controller instructor assigned to the 274th Air Support Operations Squadron at Hancock Field Air National Guard Base in Syracuse, New York.
“I was one of the names that got selected to go. I was very fortunate,” he said.
Cange said he expected the course to be similar to the U.S. Army’s Ranger School, where his endurance would be pushed to the limits.
“I did a lot of cardio, running, swimming, calisthenics, kind of took away the weight training,” he said. “Long endurance was the preparation as well as mental prep. I did as much reading on the course as I could and did a deep dive into jungle tactics.”
He also talked to Lapinel about the best strategies and advice for the course.
“Thankfully, I was already pretty well prepared due to my participation in the 2021 Best Warrior Competition,” said Miller, an infantryman assigned to 2nd Battalion, 108th Infantry Regiment, based in Utica, New York.
Miller placed 2nd in the junior enlisted category at the Army National Guard’s Best Warrior Competition at the end of July.
“Though I didn’t have much time between the end of nationals and the start of the school, I was still able to focus on more specific tasks like swimming and the operation process,” Miller said.
One of the biggest obstacles to tackle right away was acclimating to the Brazilian environment, Cange said.
“Definitely a lot of environmental factors going from the north right to equator,” said Cange. “One of the hardest things was hydration and trying to keep up with that and relearning how to hydrate myself.”
Cange said training in the tropical climate with 100% humidity added to the difficulty of the course, which started immediately upon arriving in Brazil.
“We started pretty much right away, started academics right away,” he said. “It all started pretty quickly.”
The course is in seven phases of about a week each. Cange said the first phase of academics lasted only a few days before they headed into the jungle.
The students learn how to survive in the jungle before studying tactical techniques of jungle operations and performing military operations.
“The course itself was difficult at times, mostly due to the bodily stress caused by limited food and sleep as well as large distances walked,” said Miller. “But the course overall gave me a great experience not only with a gain in the understanding of jungle operations but allowed me to meet great soldiers from around the world and experience a new way of life I wouldn’t have gotten otherwise.”
Cange joked that his team couldn’t even find snakes to eat.
“It was very difficult to find any kind of meat to eat,” he said.
Nearing the end of the seven weeks, the students went through one last event.
“We did a last walk. It was about four days of walking, and we got to the point of a site in the middle of the jungle,” Cange said.
“It is more of a heritage walk to them. After the completion of that, we went to a crash site. To bring us there as a group was very important, and only jungle warriors who complete the walk get to see it,” he said.
Seeing the decades-old crash site sitting in a remote part of the jungle marked the end of the course.
“The graduation portion of it is not for the individual; it is for the greater good of the Amazon,” Cange said. “When you receive the machete during the ceremony, you know you’re part of something much bigger than you.”
Each graduate received the jaguar blade and had the right to buy the Brazilian version of the bowie knife with a jaguar-headed handle made for the jungle warfare center.
“It felt great to graduate, not only to be proud to join the many before me who can be called jungle warriors, but also to know I would be able to go home soon to pass on that knowledge,” said Miller.
“The machete is the symbol of the jungle warrior; it’s unmistakable,” Cange said. “When you identify the machete on someone, you know they’re a jungle warrior.”