JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – An expedition that took 35 future military officers deep into the South American jungle this summer is setting the bar for other cultural programs designed for U.S. Army cadets.
The 2013 Cultural Understanding Language Proficiency program’s (CULP) trip to Guyana topped all similar Cadet Overseas Training Missions worldwide this year, according to U.S. Army Cadet Command.
The four-week event in Guyana, headed by members of the Florida National Guard Recruiting and Retention Battalion, garnered high marks by Cadet Command’s Language Regional Expertise and Culture (LREC) program.
CULP Expedition Guyana Mission Commander Florida Army National Guard’s Maj. Peter Jennison said the June 26 - Aug. 1 CULP expedition to Guyana was truly “groundbreaking.”
“This was the first time an all-National Guard cadre had ever sponsored a CULP expedition,” Jennison, who serves as the assistant professor of military science for the University of North Florida’s Army ROTC program, said. “And it was the first time CULP had gone to Guyana. It had never been done before.”
The Guyana CULP expedition was ranked against events in 36 other nations, and was rated based on variables such as cost, training value and support from the partner nation. Since the Florida National Guard is partnered with Guyana through the National Guard’s State Partnership Program, the choice to hold the mission in Guyana made sense.
Jennison and two other members of the Florida Army National Guard’s recruiting staff led the unprecedented mission. They hoped to provide the cadets with “cultural understanding of different people” and military-to-military training in a foreign nation. The cadets – both male and female – hailed from more than 20 different U.S. universities.
“It was an outstanding experience,” Jennison said. “Most of the cadets were sophomores, some freshmen. For a lot of them it was the first time they were away from home, let alone out of the country.”
Throughout much of the trip the Cadets worked closely with the Guyanese Defence Force (GDF), participating in everything from AK-47 rifle marksmanship and extreme orienteering at GDF’s basic training camp at Takama in southeast Guyana, to the world-renowned and infamously rigorous Jungle Amphibious Training School (JATS).
“We worked hand-in-hand with the Guyanese Defence Force – with 18 of their officers and officer candidates,” Jennison explained, noting the cadets and the GDF members even met for a capstone leadership summit to compare the ethics and standards between the different organizations. “We have so much in common as two different foreign militaries, that it really proved the point of CULP.”
Florida Army National Guard Sgt. 1st Class Jonathan Preston said that he and the other cadre for the trip – Jennison and Staff Sgt. Marie Racine – developed a “footprint that had never been stepped in before” for this unique visit to Guyana.
They provided initial guidelines for the cadets before departing from Fort Knox, Ky., however the cadets planned the logistics and handled every facet of mission execution, including transportation over land, sea, and air, as well as food, water, and lodging requirements.
“It was perfect opportunity to go somewhere and do more than just follow a training schedule,” Preston said. “We saw this as a chance to not just go sightseeing, but to immerse our U.S. cadets in an actual overseas deployment using the military-to-military experience so they could gain a better understanding of what their counterparts in Guyana were going through.”
The Jungle Amphibious Training School (JATS) which the cadets attended may have been the most intense part of the expedition.
Located on the Essequibo River in Makouria, Guyana, JATS is an intense jungle warfare and survival school taught by special forces soldiers from Guyana and Brazil. At one point during the eight-day course the cadets were forced to survive two-nights in the jungle with little more than machetes and the clothes on their backs. They learned to forage for food and build their own shelters despite torrential rainstorms, stinging insects and dense jungle.
“It was a very, very tough environment that tested them both mentally and physically,” Jennison said, comparing it to portions of the U.S. Army Aviation SERE (Survival, Evasion, Resistance, and Escape) School.
After a brief rest, the cadets embarked on a challenging three-day hiking and river expedition deep in Guyana’s mountainous interior to the famous and picturesque Kaieteur Falls. Before they returned to the United States, the cadets also performed a community outreach mission near the capital of Georgetown. Joined by U.S. Ambassador Brendt Hardt and a team from the U.S. Embassy, the cadets assisted with landscaping projects, worked with underprivileged children, and designed a public-message mural.
While the expedition was exciting and exotic – at times feeling like an “Indiana Jones movie” according to Preston – the cadre used the trip as a working model to test if the ROTC academic theory and leadership philosophies they were teaching at the University of North Florida were practical and effective. Based on their observations, the “team building and team development” instruction was being followed by the cadets and they successfully developed into a well-adapted, cohesive team.
According to Preston, the Guyana experience would help them later in ROTC during their Leadership Development and Assessment Course (LDAC), “Coupled with the experience of “deploying” to South America as part of the Guyana CULP expedition, these cadets will be uniquely positioned for success as Army officers."
“It became evident through the process over two or three weeks that there was real legitimacy in what was being taught in the curriculum,” Jennison also affirmed. “What we put them through will set them up for success at LDAC and after they become commissioned officers. It was a perfect preview of what they’re going to see and do as future Army leaders.”
A 2014 CULP expedition to Guyana is already being planned in cooperation with Florida National Guard Recruiting and Retention.