SCOTIA, New York – A member of the New York Air National Guard's 109th Airlift Wing is heading for the Brazilian Army's jungle training center along the Amazon River this week.
Senior Airman Caleb Lapinel, 22, who joined the Air Guard three years ago, will attend the six-week International Jungle Operations Course the Brazilian Army runs for international students at its Center for Jungle Warfare Instruction in Manaus, Brazil.
Experts in jungle warfare consider the Brazilian training center to be the toughest and best in the world.
Lapinel has been working full-time as an Air National Guardsman. The 109th Airlift wing is based at Stratton Air National Guard Base in Scotia and flies the LC-130 aircraft configured to land on snow and ice.
New York Army National Guard Staff Sgt. Dylan Delamarter, a member of Headquarters Company, 2nd Battalion, and 108th Infantry, was also selected to attend the school but was not able to get his passport in time due to COVID-19.
The New York National Guard has a training relationship with the Brazilian military through the National Guard's State Partnership Program. The program pairs national militaries with state National Guards.
In November 2019, New York Army National Guard Staff Sgt. Thomas Carpenter, a member of the 2nd Battalion, 108th Infantry, graduated from the international course and was awarded his official machete.
Lapinel said he applied to attend the school this year because "I thought it would be a really cool thing to do."
While Carpenter is a graduate of the Army's Ranger School, Lapinel is an intelligence specialist in the 109th Airlift Wing's Operations Support Squadron.
Lapinel conceded he's more used to preparing PowerPoint briefing slides than conducting close combat drills. But he's been working to learn what he can about what infantrymen do.
"I bought the Ranger handbook and studied that," he said, "and watched some YouTube videos."
His leaders think Lapinel will succeed because of his drive.
"The Brazilian jungle warfare course was made for Airman Lapinel, not only because he is in excellent physical condition but because he is also mentally tough," said New York Air National Guard Command Chief Denny Richardson.
"He is as strong as they come and has demonstrated his ability to rise under pressure," Richardson added. "Airman Lapinel is always in search of a challenge, and this will definitely challenge him, but I am confident in his ability to persevere and overcome this and any obstacle."
He got some tips from Carpenter about what he should prepare for, and he's designed a workout to help him get in shape. He's been running five miles a day, lifting weights, doing calisthenics, pullups and situps and doing pushups every hour, Lapinel said.
He has also been working on his water skills in his girlfriend's swimming pool.
Carpenter warned him that swimming ability is the key to passing the course. The Brazilians train to use the rivers to move around the jungle in, so course participants spend a lot of time in the water making rafts out of their gear, he explained.
So he's been working at treading water in uniform with a pack on and swimming with the breaststroke in his boots, Lapinel said.
To comply with COVID-19 pandemic restrictions, Lapinel has been self-quarantining before leaving for Brazil. He expects to be in Brazil for the course start on Sept. 26.