“The Sandman,” a mythical character, delivers dreams to children throughout the world while they sleep. So he has heard it all when it comes to what young boys want to be when they grow up. The list of hopes and dreams is limitless.
If the “Late Show with David Letterman” had a Top 10 list of the “Hopes and Dreams of Aspiring Young Boys,” be-coming a member of an elite Special Forces unit presumably would be on that list. It might be to become a member of the Navy SEALs, Delta Force, Army Green Berets or Rangers, the Air Force PJs, a U.S. Marine Corps Force Recon team, or the British SAS or the French Foreign Legion.
All the backyard sandbox wars inspire young minds to turn those green-plastic army men into whomever they want them to be. More importantly, those imaginative heroes teach them that victory, fun and adventure aren’t just pipe dreams, but can become reality with initiative and hard work.
For many of us, those childhood dreams begin to fade as we approach adulthood. For some, the daily grind has killed those dreams. For others, their contribution to society is nonexistent; some simply exist from one day to the next. Ronald Reagan summed it up best when he said, “Marines don’t have that problem.” For those who walk the roads less traveled, adult-hood morphs from childhood fantasy to a kaleidoscope of dreams woven, thread by thread, into the fabric of their daily lives, dreams that become reality, dreams that change the world.
One such Marine, Staff Sergeant Rafael E. Campos, certainly has lived his life to improve the world. He currently is serving as a military language instructor at the Defense Language Institute (DLI) in Monterey, Calif., a Department of Defense school that provides resident instruction in 23 languages and two dialects, five days a week, seven hours per day, with homework each night.
At 26, SSgt Campos, a Modern Standard Arabic instructor, already had reached an “elite” class in his own right. While serving in the Marine Corps, he has become a master linguist who speaks, reads and writes six languages and teaches at what is regarded as one of the finest foreign language schools in the nation.
As a boy, Campos had a dream: to serve in the world-renowned French Foreign Legion. Fast-forwarding to 2011, Campos was working in his office when a unique opportunity presented itself to the Floresville, Texas, native and 2004 graduate of Floresville High School. A colleague walked in and announced that he had an exclusive opportunity for the “right” Marine.
The French Foreign Legion was looking for one of the “few and proud” to train along-side their elite legionnaires for two months at the Centre d’Entraînement en Forêt Equatoriale (CEFE), which translates to the Center for Equatorial Jungle Training, a French Army Jungle Warfare school colocated at Camp Szuts in Regina, French Guiana, and Camp Forget in Korou, French Guiana, home to the 3e Régiment étranger d’infanterie or the 3d Foreign Legion Regiment.
Only one U.S. Marine would be chosen to train with France’s elite and attend the Chef de section jungle or Jungle Platoon Commander Course. Campos quickly jumped at the chance to be that Marine. However, one thing was keeping him from training alongside France’s finest. The master linguist and highly motivated Marine did not speak French; a requirement which, to a lesser man, would seem like an impossibility to achieve in less than a month.
Not 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 childhood fantasy.
“It had been an early dream of mine to be a legionnaire,” said the seven-year Marine Corps veteran. “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 duties as an instructor, Campos, who has a proven affinity for learning foreign languages, submitted his résumé and was selected to attend the course. “My CO saw that I had a strong back-ground of language skills with exams on file for Iraqi, Levantine, Egyptian, Pashto and Spanish,” in addition to Modern Standard Arabic.
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 multicultural atmosphere that the school provides, as well as the opportunity to share his learning methods with new trainees.
It is challenging to teach service-members a new language, specifically Arabic, which is considered by some Westerners to be one of the most difficult languages to learn. But Campos quickly found himself up for a different challenge: the chance to represent the Marine Corps and endure the French Foreign Legion’s Jungle Platoon Commander Course at the CEFE taught by none other than the famed legionnaires.
At the course indoctrination, Campos found himself training alongside warriors from Canada, Mexico, Nicaragua, Colombia, Dominican Republic, Jamaica, Brazil, Holland, Spain, Portugal, Germany, Poland, England, France and Suriname. He graduated from the two-month course on Feb. 29, 2012.
Asked about the challenges he faced, Campos humbly 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. … I enjoyed the opportunity to work with dedicated men in a challenging environment.”
Together, this cadre of international military students—leaders among their respective services—trained alongside one another to become one of the elite 1,800 graduates the CEFE trains annually and aims at “hardening … in its harsh environment,” according to the 3e Régiment étranger d’infanterie unit website.
The CEFE also offers several different training courses in jungle warfare for unit-sized groups: the Initiation Course, which lasts four days during which the students are familiarized with jungle survival; the Jungle Warfare Course, which lasts for two weeks during which 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 unit with specific survival skills or field test equipment in a jungle environment.
So what is gained by sending one of the nation’s finest to train alongside his brothers from around the world?
Simply put, the CEFE participants gain the opportunity to work alongside one of the Marine Corps’ best and brightest. In return, the Corps gains a sharper, more-skilled and well-rounded Marine Corps staff noncommissioned officer who directly impacts the lives of countless military personnel who pass daily through the halls of DLI. Even more significantly, the Corps is developing a senior enlisted leader who will have the opportunity to bring back what has nearly become a lost art due to the Corps’ focus on desert training and combat for the last decade: an improved chance to reinforce the Corps’ return to its amphibious roots.
Campos gained the experience of a life-time, additional training and a chance to make lasting friendships. He returned to DLI to rejoin an elite fraternity of 2,000 highly educated instructors and continue the long-standing tradition of training some of the world’s finest foreign-language students and servicemembers dedicated to the security of the nation.