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Army National Guard Staff Sgt. Thomas Carpenter graduates from Brazilian Army jungle school
New York Army National Guard Staff Sgt. Thomas Carpenter, second from right, and other Soldiers who graduated from the Jungle Operations International Course conducted by the Brazilian Army Jungle Warfare Training Center, brandish their machetes following a graduation ceremony Nov. 30, 2019, in Manaus, Brazil. Carpenter was the 30th American soldier to graduate from the tough, demanding course. (Courtesy photo)

New York Army National Guard Staff Sgt. Thomas Carpenter, a Prospect resident, has successfully passed the six-week long International Jungle Operations Course run by the Brazilian army at its Center for Jungle Warfare Instruction in Manaus, Brazil.

Carpenter, a full-time non-commissioned officer in the 2nd Battalion, 108th Infantry, was the number three graduate in the class.

According to the U.S. Embassy in Brazil, he is the 30th American Soldier to graduate from the program.

“Most jungle military experts consider the Brazilian army Jungle Warfare School to be the premier jungle school in the world,” said Army Lt. Col. Rob Santamaria, a military liaison in the U.S. Embassy in Brasilia.

New York Army National Guard Staff Sgt. Thomas Carpenter, right, stands with two other soldiers recognized as honor graduates from the Jungle Operations International Course conducted by the Brazilian Army Jungle Warfare Training Center. Carpenter finished third in the class. (Courtesy photo)

“Staff Sgt. Carpenter’s graduation from the Brazilian army Jungle Warfare Schools International Course has given the New York Army National Guard instant credibility and garnered much respect with the Brazilian army,” he added.

The New York National Guard entered into a training and exchange partnership with the Brazilian military in March of this year as part of the National Guard’s State Partnership Program.

The program pairs state National Guard’s with militaries in countries around the world.

The New York National Guard has had a partnership with the South African National Defence Force since 2003. The partnership with Brazil puts New York in the small group of state National Guard’s with two partners.

Carpenter, age 38, was selected to represent New York, because the invitation to send representatives to the jungle warfare school came at short notice, according to New York Army National Guard Command Sgt. Major David Piwowarski.

“He is a consummate professional who has always been willing to accept challenges,” Piwowarski explained.

“Staff Sgt. Carpenter embodies the spirit of the minuteman,” Piwowarski said. “On very short notice with no specific train-up, he responded with toughness to this demanding course with just the training he already had under his belt and a lot of guts.”

Carpenter is a graduate of the U.S. Army Ranger School, the U.S. Army Airborne School, and he holds the Combat Infantryman Badge. He has served two combat tours in Afghanistan and competed in the 2015 Best Ranger Competition.

The most demanding part of the course was the swimming requirement, Carpenter said. He had to be able to swim long distances wearing full uniform, carrying a weapon and towing a backpack.

“It was quite a struggle to get the swimming,” Carpenter said. “It was a nightmare.”

For a week after he arrived at the school’s Manaus, Brazil headquarters, he was in the pool working with instructors until he could swim in full uniform, with his weapon, towing a pack.

Being able to swim well is such a vital part of the jungle warfare course because rivers replace roads in the rain forest, Carpenter explained.

“Where they operate in the Amazon jungle there are only two roads,” Carpenter said. “Most everything is done through the river system. They use the river networks to transport supplies and people.”

On arriving at the school all participants must pass basic skills tests, including the swimming requirement, to indicate that they can tackle the course. Then they move into the jungle.

The first phase of the six-week course focuses on living and surviving in the jungle, Carpenter said. The soldiers learned what they could and couldn’t eat. They also learned to avoid deadly insects, and animals, and snakes.

“We didn’t do any snake eating but I had to catch one,” he said.

Dealing with the constant moisture was another skill they learned, Carpenter said.

“The rain is not like the rain here,” he said. “It is like a monsoon rain. It is a constant battle to keep the rust away and keep everything in good operational order.”

Navigating in the dense jungle is also a special skill, Carpenter said.

Depending on the season, the water levels in streams and rivers can be drastically different. The Brazilians issue different maps for different times of the year reflecting those changes, he said.

And the jungle canopy makes it difficult to create maps that have precise contour features, he said.

The soldiers learned to follow the “dry line” while navigating, he explained. They would stay on the high ground and avoid the ravines, which meant it takes longer to go anywhere.

Those survival and navigation skills were tested in a four day exercise in which each squad was dropped in the jungle and given a distance and a direction and tasks to conduct along the way.

The second phase of the training involves learning to operate in the rivers. Eventually, Carpenter and his squad-which included soldiers from China, Canada, France and Paraguay-conducted a two kilometer river insertion.

“We were in the water for three hours that night,” he recalled.

The final phase of the training focused on military tactics in the rainforest.

That training was similar to the Army’s Ranger School, Carpenter said.

The men planned and conducted patrols and tactical missions. They rappelled into the jungle from hovering helicopters. This phase was capped with a long range patrol.

The main difference between Ranger School and the Brazilian jungle training, is that the jungle is multiple times denser than the woods and Florida swamps Rangers train in, Carpenter said.

At the end of the six weeks, Carpenter and the other international students, which included one other American, were presented with their Jaguar Badge-the official symbol of a Brazilian jungle warrior-and a machete.

The machete is presented during a special ceremony in which a Soldier who has already completed the course presents it to the new graduate. The blade is then christened by waving it through the smoke from a fire.

Since Brazil founded its jungle warfare school in 1964, over 6,300 soldiers have made it through the course. This includes 530 graduates of the international course the Brazilian army runs once a year.

His goal now, Carpenter said, is to bring the skills he learned back to his unit and other New York Army National Guard formations.

“I’m not a good NCO unless I train soldiers and make them better than me,” he said.

New York Army National Guard Staff Sgt. Thomas Carpenter, second from right, and other Soldiers who graduated from the Jungle Operations International Course conducted by the Brazilian Army Jungle Warfare Training Center, brandish their machetes following a graduation ceremony Nov. 30, 2019, in Manaus, Brazil. Carpenter was the 30th American soldier to graduate from the tough, demanding course.

New York Army National Guard Staff Sgt. Thomas Carpenter, right, stands with two other Soldiers recognized as honor graduates from the Jungle Operations International Course conducted by the Brazilian Army Jungle Warfare Training Center, brandish their machetes following a graduation ceremony in Manaus, Brazil. Carpenter was the 30th American Soldier to graduate from the tough, demanding course, and finished third in the class. (Courtesy photo)

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