MARINE CORPS BASE CAMP LEJEUNE, N.C. --
From Jamaica and Brazil to the Czech Republic and Hungary, they’ve come with one unifying purpose. They’re here to train.
For more than half a century, Marines trained at the Marine Corps Engineer School aboard Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune. Alongside classroom instruction, officers and enlisted personnel alike receive the hands-on, in-the-dirt training needed to complete engineering missions in the field. Through international exchange efforts, the training is available to a select group of international students as well.
“It works hand in hand for our advantage in the U.S. and for the international militaries,” said Sherl Gowen, the international military student officer at MCES responsible for aiding foreign students tackling the school’s courses. “A lot of times we don’t hear about it from our media, but they are right there arm in arm with the U.S. military. It gives the international (militaries) an understanding of the terminology, where the Marines are coming from and how they do business.”
The various countries enrolling students to MCES screen candidates for language aptitude and security qualifications. When a course is selected, the students are sent to the school to receive the same training as the Marines. They complete the physical, classroom and field training required of each Marine student. The international students sit in the same classroom as the Marines, and those of appropriate rank are even housed alongside their Marine counterparts, said Gowen.
“They have to be able to speak English,” said Gowen. “If they come straight from their country, they receive an English language test I conduct. For most of the courses, they have to score at least a 70 percent. For some of the courses that are high risk, they have to score at least an 80 percent. Some of the students leave their country and go to the Defense Language Institute at Lackland Air Force Base.”
The exchange program is a unique opportunity for the Marines as well, added Gowen. Many of the international students will cross paths with the U.S. military again. In return, the Marines get to know individuals from other countries. They learn about their culture, military and how they operate, putting a face on allies they may work with in the field.
MCES’s longest course lasts for four months, and most of the school’s classes are open to international students. Funding for their training varies depending on which country the student comes from. As nations determine which program meets the particular needs of their military, they select and fund students accordingly. For some, the experience is covered by the student’s nation. For others, the U.S. provides financial aid, said Gowen.
Many of the students will use the training they receive at MCES to make changes in their own military, said Gowen, who served in her current position since 2000. Many will move up in rank and serve in positions of authority where they can have an impact.
“It’s been an excellent experience here,” said 1st Lt. Vinicius Oliveira, an MCES student from Brazil. “I learned a lot, and it will be very useful for the Brazilian Marine Corps and the engineer battalion. I had many experiences here. I’ve seen many things I’ve read about, and actually seen how it happens and how it works. It’s definitely a worthwhile experience, and I encourage the other officers to make the effort to come here.”
The exchange is part of a State Department initiative carried out by the Department of Defense, said Gowen. In addition, other programs send Marines to train and learn from other militaries, and Marine Training Teams even visit other nations to provide training for groups of foreign military personnel in their own country.
“Though I might not be able to incorporate most of these things right now, we are a growing army,” said 1st Lt. Cortess Whilby, an exchange student serving with the Jamaican Defense Force. “I see we are looking to the future where what we do here will be implemented further on. I definitely will take whatever I learn here and try to enforce it when I get the chance.”
In addition to the course work required by the school, Gowen helps the students interact with the cultural and political side of their host nation. International students complete a Field Study Program, which includes a four-day trip to Washington, D.C. Interacting with a new culture while attending MCES can be a balancing act as well as a learning experience for students, said Gowen.
“I count it a privilege to share it with them,” said Gowen. “They’re eager to learn, and they’re very appreciative for our assistance.”