FORT BENNING, GA – For the first time in more than 25 years, an American Soldier has graduated from the Guatemalan special operations Kaibil School, in Poptún, Guatemala.
Staff Sgt. Joel R. Rodriguez, Jr., a Ranger Reconnaissance Team Leader assigned to Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 2d Battalion, 75th Ranger Regiment, Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Wash., graduated December 2012.
“I volunteered to attend this school because I wanted the challenge,” said Rodriguez. “I wanted to test myself and it’s something I wanted to accomplish during my military career.”
The Kaibil School is considered one of the most prestigious, vigorous, arduous military courses in Central America. Their motto: “If I advance, follow me. If I stop, urge me on. If I retreat, kill me.”
Within one week of starting the process, Rodriguez was en route to Guatemala City to start his training with no preparation whatsoever.
The Kaibil School specializes in jungle warfare tactics and counter-insurgency operations, small unit tactics and students endure great mental and psychological stresses and physical fatigue.
According to the Ministry of Defense, the Kaibil Center’s mission is to train and develop elite commando forces: “To select by means of arduous, difficult training under physical and mental pressure, members of the (Guatemalan) army are capable of engaging in commando operations.”
“Our training started with an introduction to our instructors while rolling around in mud puddles and a duck walk in four foot deep puddles and saying the Kaibil creed and motto at the same time,” said Rodriguez.
The students ran five miles to the school grounds, stopping for extracurricular activities such as high and low crawling through brush, duck walking in formation, for an unknown distance, followed by low crawling in the mud.
“Once we arrived at the school, that’s where the actual course began,” said Rodriguez. “And there was only one way in – low crawling 400 meters to the classroom.”
Eating is always a challenge when attending any military course but the Kaibil School puts unique demands on its students.
“A Kaibil student must do several events in order to eat,” said Rodriguez. “Run 2 miles in 18 minutes or less in full combat gear, conduct five pull ups and 10 pushups. Then we duck walked 50 meters to the dining facility and while waiting to enter the building, we had to stay in the duck walk position.”
Once the students reached the Dining Facility, they were given 30 seconds to eat.
“We ate what we could as fast as we could,” said Rodriguez.
It’s no wonder the Ranger lost 40 pounds.
Phase One training consisted of forced road marches from distances of three miles to 32 miles, introduction to GPS and land navigation course, basic first aid, introduction to patrolling, hand-to-hand combat, obstacle courses and introduction to the Kaibil doctrine of patrolling.
During Phase One, which is three weeks long, 30 students out of 49 dropped from the course.
Phase Two is the mountain phase and consisted of mountaineering techniques, waterborne operations, introduction to SCUBA training, construction of improvised bridges, SERE training, incursions, weapons familiarization, small unit patrols, basic demolitions, basic air mobile techniques, react to contact, and ambush classes.
“The intensity of the course did subside some in Phase Two,” said Rodriguez. “The course was a little more relaxed.”
The students were exposed to prisoner of war camp situations and survival courses. However, Rodriguez did not want to say too much in order to protect the integrity of the course.
“I experienced what it is like to be a POW and what stresses and stressors a POW may experience,” said Rodriguez. “We were also taught how to process game and forage for food.”
Phase Two is four weeks long and Rodriguez experienced the same physical and mental stress as Phase One. Four additional students dropped from the course during this phase.
Several events took place during the final phase of the course, including final patrols, ambushes, raids, partisan link-up procedures, react to contact and infiltrations.
Throughout the entire course, “…displaying the intestinal fortitude required to fight on to the Ranger objective and complete the mission” was always in the back of Rodriguez’s mind but never more so than in the final phase.
“I conducted patrols in nothing but underwear, with no boots, while walking on azimuth through thorn filled brush, and rolled around in the thorns to fortify the body,” said Rodriguez. “As crazy as it sounds, after a while, the body goes numb and no pain is felt.”
“The mental change is that no matter what happens, no matter what task is given, no matter how impossible the task may seem, everything is possible if one can push through the pain and discomfort to accomplish the mission,” said Rodriguez. “This is what makes a Kaibil, a unique soldier.”
Rodriguez was one of 15 students to graduate from the course.
“I recommend this course to all who want to attend. However, you will go through very intense training that may be considered inhumane by others but this is the kind of training a Soldier needs to be prepared for combat,” said Rodriguez. “I see the world in a whole new way, and have learned what my body is capable of accomplishing with minimal equipment, food, water and support from outside sources.”
Rodriguez is no stranger to taking on the tough military schools.
He is a graduate of the U.S. Army Ranger Course Jumpmaster Course, Advanced Leader Course, Pathfinder Course, Long Range Surveillance Leader Course, Javelin Training Devices, Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape Course, Combatives Level 1 and 2, the Warrior Leader Course, Emergency Medicine Technologist Basic Course, the Ranger Assessment and Selection Program and the Basic Airborne Course.
Rodriguez has deployed six times in support of the War on Terror with four tours to Iraq and two to Afghanistan for a total of 23 months deployed.
Rodriguez is a native of Penitas, Texas and has been in the U.S. Army since May 2005.