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Fulfilling an early dream
COURTESY/U.S. Marine Corps Forces, South
U.S. Marine Staff Sgt. Rafael Campos conducts a patrol during jungle warfare training with the French Foreign Legion. Campos is a Modern Standard Arabic Military Language instructor with the U.S. Marine Corps.
By Staff Sgt. David Hercher
U.S. Marine Corps Forces, South
REGINA, French Guiana -- Staff Sgt. Rafael E. Campos, a 2004 graduate of Floresville High School, and a Modern Standard Arabic Military Language instructor for the Defense Language Institute (DLI) at the Presidio of Monterey, recently took some time away from his regular duties as an instructor to train with the French Foreign Legion at the Centre d’Entra"nement à la Forêt Equatoriale (CEFE), the Center for Equatorial Jungle Training, a French Army Jungle Warfare school co-located at both Camp Szuts in Regina, French Guiana, and Camp Forget in Korou, French Guiana, home to the 3e Régiment étranger d’infanterie, 3rd Foreign Legion Regiment.
As the only U.S. military service member attending the Chef de section Foret, Jungle Platoon Commander Course, Campos jumped at the chance to attend when the rare opportunity arose for a Marine Corps staff non-commissioned officer to attend.
Having been an instructor at DLI for merely four months before attending the CEFE, Campos said he enjoys his job as an instructor and likes “the multi-cultural atmosphere and language resources” that the school provides. “I enjoy the opportunity to share my learning methods with new trainees,” said Campos.
Regarded as one of the finest schools in the nation for foreign language, DLI provides resident instruction in 23 languages and two dialects, five days a week, seven hours per day, with two to three hours of homework each night. Certainly it is challenging to teach these service men and women, some of whom are “new” to the U.S. military and its culture, the art of speaking, reading, and writing a brand new language, and what is considered by some to be one of the most difficult languages to learn, Arabic.
Since European languages (i.e. English, Spanish, German, French, etc.) all have origins that can be traced to Latin, there are similarities that make it easier for speakers of these languages to learn another Latin-based language. “For this reason, Asian, Middle Eastern, and Slavic languages are often the most challenging for Westerners [to learn],” according to an article titled “The Top Seven Hardest Languages to Learn” by Linguim.com, an interactive, language learning website dedicated to one purpose: teaching foreign languages to students in a new and interactive way.
The first challenge
Not being one to turn away from a challenge, Campos, who served in Operation Iraqi Freedom in 2009 and Operation Enduring Freedom in 2010, had what some may consider an impossible obstacle standing between him and his chance to fulfill a boyhood dream of training with the French Foreign Legion: He had to teach himself French in less than a month.
“It had been an early dream of mine to be a Legionnaire,” said the 7-year Marine. “I jumped at the opportunity by asking my CO [Commanding Officer] for permission to attend. I promised him I’d learn French in the three weeks I had until the course began.”
With time ticking away to teach himself French, and a busy schedule to juggle with his day job as an instructor, Campos, who has a proven affinity for learning foreign languages, submitted his resume and was handpicked to attend the course. His commanding officer saw that he had a strong background of language skills with exams on file for Iraqi, Levantine, Egyptian, Pashto, and Spanish, in addition to Modern Standard Arabic.
Meeting the world
When asked about the challenges he faced in the Jungle Platoon Commander Course, Campos simply stated that he was thankful to have the opportunity to “enjoy an atmosphere of cooperation. I was able to train with men and accomplish tasks and missions in order for the group to benefit. We looked out for one another and had victory, not personal agendas, on our minds.”
Having trained alongside warriors from Canada, Mexico, Nicaragua, Colombia, Dominican Republic, Jamaica, Brazil, Holland, Spain, Portugal, Germany, Poland, England, France, and Suriname in the two-month-long course, Campos humbly remarked that he “enjoyed the opportunity to work with dedicated men in a challenging environment.”
Together, this cadre of international military students and leaders among their respective services, trained alongside one another to become one of the elite 1,800 graduates that the CEFE trains from around the world annually, and aims at “hardening ... in its harsh environment,” according to the 3e Régiment étranger d’infanterie unit website.
The litany of training objectives that these men accomplished included offensive, defensive, and riverine maneuvers; use of explosives; live fire exercises with machine guns, rifles and rifle-launched grenades; martial arts; and jungle survival techniques.
In the jungle
The CEFE also offers several different training courses in jungle warfare for unit-sized groups: the Initiation Course, which lasts four days, during which time the students are familiarized with jungle survival; the Jungle Warfare Course, which lasts for two weeks, during which time the unit is prepared for operating in a jungle or tropical environment; the Advanced Jungle Warfare Course, which lasts for two weeks and was developed to impart specific skills to infantry and special forces units; and the Survival Course, which is intended to impart the student unit with specific survival skill or field test equipment in a jungle environment.
One sharper Marine
So what is gained by sending one of the nation’s finest to train alongside his brothers from around the world, one may ask?
Simply put, the Legion gains the opportunity to work alongside one of the Marine Corps’ best and brightest. The Marine Corps gains a sharper, more skilled, and well-rounded Marine Corps Staff NCO who directly affects the lives of countless military service men and women that pass through the halls of DLI daily, and even more significant, the opportunity to bring back to the Marine Corps what has nearly become a lost art due to the Corps’ focus on desert training and combat for the last decade: the chance for the Corps to return to its amphibious roots.
Campos not only gained the experience of a lifetime, the additional training, and a chance to make lifetime friendships that he may otherwise never have had the opportunity to do, but he returns to DLI to rejoin an elite fraternity of 2,000 highly educated instructors, and continue the longstanding tradition of delivering to the nation some of the world’s best foreign language students and service members dedicated to the security of the nation.
This article and the accompanying photos are published courtesy of the U.S. Marine Corps, South.
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