Almost 1,800km from the sea and 5,000 from the source of the Amazon river, the 2.2 million inhabitants of the city of Manaus live in the steamy, hot and humid climate that immediately springs to mind on mention of the word Amazon. What better place than this, then, to train and educate Brazil’s jungle warriors? Situated close to the urban sprawl that is the city, the Centro Instrucao de Guerre na Selva (CIGS or Jungle Warfare Training School) is a fifty year old institution that has established itself as one of the world’s leading jungle warfare training facilities.
A sign at the entrance to the Centro Colonel Jorge Texeira, housing the CIGS, welcomes visitors to “The Home of the Brazilian Jungle Warrior,” and offers an integrated series of instructional and educational facilities that sit alongside research and development activities that have already provided insights into the physiological and psychological stresses unique to the jungle environment. CIGS – which is soon to undergo perhaps the most fundamental change in its half century history – is truly a hidden jewel.
Commandant of CIGS, Coronel Alcimar Marques de Araujo Martins, explains that the central structure of training is divided into three main courses: the ‘C’ Course, aimed at Sergeants at the squad and platoon command level; the ‘B’ Course, catering for Lieutenants and Captains at the platoon and company level; and the ‘A’ Course, which provides training for more senior officers at the Major and Colonel commanding companies and battalion levels. The important fact, Alcimar points out, is that the objective of all the courses is “to teach command in a jungle environment” – so in a sense, this is a “train the trainers” approach to developing jungle warfare expertise.
Since the first course at CIGS in February of 1967 – which consisted of 31 sergeants – the number of students enrolled in the ‘B’ and ‘C’ Courses has grown to a typical level of 120 students per 10 week course, each of which are held three times per year. Competition for places on the courses is fierce, with some 350 applications for 120 places on the last course, according to Alcimar. The senior officer course is a slightly less intense eight weeks in duration, though the same level of physical and mental stress is applied to students.
Challenging, exhausting and providing a ‘journey into self’ for the successful applicants, the esprit de corps that results from graduating the CIGS is palpable among the staff and alumni. The unique symbols of a graduate include the distinctive gorro headdress, the onça or jaguar badge (the school has a total of nine jaguars ‘on strength) and, perhaps most prized – because the graduate has to purchase it with his own funds – the facao, a sword-knife reminiscent of the medieval falchion and bearing more than a passing resemblance to the modern machete.
The onça possesses strength, agility and intelligence – attributes the school strives to instil and exploit among its students and hence the reason for the creature’s adoption as its de facto mascot, according to Alcimar. The school’s staff also share the animal’s character – some 498 fully committed staff, including 58 officers and sergeants, provide instruction ranging from methods of surviving in a hostile environment to special warfare techniques such as patrolling, river navigation and crossing procedures and individual weapons skills – firing standard weapons in the jungle requires very different skills from those employed in more traditional combat environments.
Alcimar shows justifiable pride in the quality and motivation of the CIGS cadre. “They are selected from among many applicants, they are motivated to succeed, they are experts in the techniques we teach and they are fully committed to supporting and training the students,” he says, going on to explain that the an individual instructor will spend up to 2,500 hours per year in the jungle surrounding Manaus: an average for a student attending one of the ‘B’ or ‘C’ courses runs some 1,100 hours, by comparison.
There are several large training areas in the local area available to CIGS for training. Two of them – the so-called Devil’s Square of 115,000 hectares and the Juma training area of 96,000 – are each well over twice the size of urban Manaus. Students live in the jungle throughout the course, for which the administrative planning schedules show activities and events pretty much 24/7 – many of which are unexpected from the students’ perspective, adding to the desired levels of stress and uncertainty staff seek to inject into the training.
Students become infinitely familiar with the issues of survival in the Amazon jungle: finding food and water from the environment, being aware of the potential dangers of predatory animals, snakes and poisonous plants, being stealthy and covert in movement – the list of issues the student has to keep in mind at all times is practically endless. Which is what makes successful graduation a prize to be relished by the individual. In its history, 5,825 soldiers and officers have graduated from CIGS – and every one of them knows his unique number on that list, as Paulo-Edouardo Ribeiro, a former Colonel who graduated the course in 1991, confirmed.
Of that number of nerly 6,000, a total of 474 officers and NCOs have come from countries other than Brazil. Over 300 have come from neighbouring Latin American nations, but well over 100 have come from Europe (with France dominating the nationalities – though many ‘French’ students are, in fact, from the Légion Étrangère and not necessarily French nationals, therefore) and a significant number from the United States. There is some justification for the assertion that CIGS and the US Marine Corps’ own jungle warfare training facility lead the pack in terms of pre-eminent establishments of their kind across the globe.
Nor does the range of CIGS activities stop at ‘mere’ training: the zoo attached to the facility houses over 200 animals of various sorts, all local to the Amazon jungle and all contributing to the considerable research the centre engages in as well as providing a reference collection for familiarisation. It is open to the local civilian population and apparently well patronised by them – which makes the fact that lack of external funding may well put the facility at risk, given the stresses placed on the Army’s budget currently.
There is hope, however. Plans at the Army Chief of Staff level to make CIGS the centre of one of the planned six integrated warfare training centres around Brazil mean that there are ambitious plans to expand the campus, integrate other training methodologies and facilities with the existing ones, and provide the basis for expanding the crucial contribution CIGS makes to the medical understanding and treatment of uniquely Amazonian ailments.
“Small, but beautifully formed” is a phrase that springs to mind after visiting CIGS. Commitment, expert knowledge, strong motivation and a highly developed sense of esprit de corps are revealed in every comment made by Alcimar and his staff. Perhaps the most telling comment, though, comes from an unidentified soldier in a video shown to demonstrate the Centre’s breadth of activity in the “7.5 million square kilometres of mystery and danger” that is the Amazon basin. “Change is the key to survival….and here we change their DNA.” Words to live by…
Tim Mahon, reporting from Manaus, State of Amazonas, Brazil