Sunday, November 11, 2007

All-Volunteer Force Being Phased In

Chile is nearly doubling the number of professional soldiers to 5,000 under a program to increase the armed forces' skill level. Soldiers, sailors, marines and airmen who complete their military service can apply for a five-year position. The jobs pay 250,000 pesos, or about US$500, a month. Chile has a military draft, but few if any draftees are forcibly conscripted. Deferrals are easy to get, and the downsizing of the armed forces left just enough spots for those who want to take advantage of military service. As Chile's military technology increases, it's become more important to keep skilled people in uniform. The army is reducing its Leopard I fleet, ostensibly because those tanks are obsolete. But critics say the tanks (acquired less than 10 years ago) would be in better operating shape if the army had enough technicians.

Monday, November 5, 2007

The Hazards of Special Forces Training

Just about anywhere, commando training means a lot of hardship. For Chile's equivalent of the U.S. Navy Seals, it may be nothing short of abuse. In a published account, ex-commando Luis Cortes describes one stage of his training in which he was kidnapped by other marines and held prisoner. "You are naked, with no food, and they subject you to a series of tests to see if you are able to overcome a situation of this sort for real." That "simulation" included beatings and electric shocks, Cortes said. Of 145 trainees, 14 were still left when they were put through a survival test. That was a 50 km trek in which they had to find clothes to wear, fend on their own for food and water, and fight the elements. After the seven-month course (which took place in the early 1990s), Cortes had earned his commando beret. "When you're a commando, nobody bothers you...You gain status." After leaving the Cosacos, Cortes took a job with Blackwater, the controversial U.S. firm that hires former soldiers for armed duty in Iraq and other hot spots. Blackwater recruited hundreds of Chileans, and Cortes led a group of them in Iraq.

Saturday, November 3, 2007

Naval Base in Antartica Reactivated

Chile's navy is putting its abandoned base in Antartica back into operating service early next year. The move came in response to new claims by Britain for a vast stretch of territory on the frozen continent. The Arturo Prat base was shuttered five years ago. But the British claims (for land believed to have oil deposits and minerals) prompted Santiago to show the flag on its own Antartic claim. The base will be used for scientific research, just like in its earlier life. It has a landing strip long enough for C-130 Hercules.