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Cuban Military Service: a school for building character

« Me? - go to military? No way! Ill get a medical certificate for any illness saying that I cant handle physical stress. Forget military service; the hard part is what comes before, spending the whole day marching around and taking orders. I dont take orders from nobody! »

This is not the dialogue of a play, nor the line from a science fiction story. These are the real words of a Cuban youth.

Phrases similar to these can be heard in casual conversations of groups of adolescents when classes are over and summertime holidays begin. The fear of Military Service, especially Basic Military Training "widely known in Cuba as the «previa»" has spread among young people.

Confronted with such a social phenomenon, questions have arisen: Are todays young people weaker and more pampered than those of previous generations? Is the previa really so horrible? Or is it just that the people no longer support the need for society to be prepared militarily?

«When young people say its bad, they are referring especially to military discipline. Youre not used to waking up so early, taking orders; thats why we come here with a rebellious attitude. Life in the streets is very different from the discipline we find here,» said soldier Maikel Correa Guia, who joined the military after having worked as paddling trainer and starting a family.

«I entered the previa on January 25, 2007. I knew I was going to face something hard; after coming from the street I was used to a lack of discipline, doing things my own way. You think thats Ok. Here the discipline is awesome; the rules are different from the ones were used to. Ive always heard my friends saying that the previa is a rough period; and now I can agree. The previa is a bear, » said 18-year-old soldier Randy Leon.

Basic Training

In Cuba, Military Service is the principal way citizens prepare for the defence of the country. It has two variants: Active Military Service and the Reserve.

The total period to be served by a person called on for Active Military Service is established in National Defences Law No. 75. In addition to the time that person spends mobilized, there is also the Reserve, which cannot exceed three years, because both periods complement each other to make up the total provisional period of military service in times of peace.

Active Military Service consists of the direct fulfilment of military obligations that Cubans carry out in their in units and details in either the Revolutionary Armed Forces or with the Ministry of the Interior. According to the Military Services Law-Decree No. 224, young men can be called to serve when they reach 18. Women serve on a voluntary basis.

Other of the variant, the Reserve, consists of carrying out of tasks related to the preparation for the defense by men up to 45 years of age. In this case, the reservists can be mobilized for a year, during which time they are subject to laws and regulations that are currently in force regarding the behavior of soldiers in active service.

The first phase of the Military Service, lasting from 40 to 60 days, is called Basic Military Training - precisely because it gives the recruits the essential knowledge of certain military issues. During this period, the new soldiers are given information about a range of issues.

According to Lieutenant Pedro A. Martinez, head of a squad, combat training is the most important activity during basic training for those entering the military. They develop skills to defend the country; they have to be able to respond quickly to any act of enemy aggression.

«This stage represents an abrupt change in their lives because they are coming from the streets, from civilian life, with its different costumes. It is very hard for them to adapt to military discipline. So, along with training in shooting, combat fighting, strategy and other military techniques, its important to give them advice, to educate them.

«Here we talk with them a lot, so that they develop a sense of responsibility in all aspects of life. In addition to political and military training, they are also imbued with a strong sense of the need for national security and political conscientiousness. »

The Routine That Makes Them Different

The daily schedule is well-organized in this training phase in terms of time and activities, and it rarely varies.

Soldiers wake up at 5:30 am every morning, reminding one of the saying the early bird catches the worm. Here the morning hours are devoted to activities such as callisthenics, personal hygiene, training, breakfast, the cleaning of quarters and six classes.

All subjects that are taught relate to defensive military understanding. The specific subjects are tactical training, shooting, exploration, the enemy army, political and legal training, engineering, military topography, physical training, infantry, military health and protection against the weapons of massive destruction, among others.

According to the subject, the classes can be held in classrooms or in areas for shooting, tactical exercises, obstacle courses or in the units gym.

Monday through Saturday, after lunch, they receive another hour of study followed by sports practice or cleaning. One night a week there are recreational activities consisting of board games, videos, TV, or reading books from the mini-library. On Sundays the recruits receive visits from their families, while in the afternoon they have free time for leisure activities.

A special place in the military unit is the soldiers classroom. This is considered important due to the fact that this is where military leaders from across the country come to share their experiences. In the first weeks of the basic training all soldiers must attend.

«In the classroom, the soldiers are taught the basic knowledge of military life and discipline. They are taught what the philosophy of our people consists of. We familiarize them with everything from military ranks to the resources of the enemy that we are facing, » explained first Lieutenant Nixander Lobayna Despaigne, who is in charge of the Soldiers Classroom.

«We talk to them about clothing, salary norms and the rights and duties of soldiers; because although they are only soldiers, they have the right to keep in touch with their families, to continue studying. If the soldier was not pursing a career, they can receive the benefit of Order 18, through which they can receive training to take college entrance exams, or they can stay in the army and take coursework to train as a professional soldier.»

Seeing so many young men from so different backgrounds and with so many personalities doing a series of activities in perfect sync "in addition to seeing them making sense of many things that they did not even notice before" is an achievement.

It is incredible how they learn to value every minute, because time is organized practically to the second! And it is amazing to see how much energy each of them put in obtaining an impeccable appearance, making their uniforms flawless, making their beds before the lieutenants inspection. Could it be possible to achieve all this without demands? Will the behavior of our young people be deformed by educating them strictly in order to achieve integrity?

«I had the worst image of the training period, in all senses indeed; but thanks to the treatment of the sergeant instructors I have seen its not that way. This time here has educated me a lot and currently my opinion of the military service is the best. I think it necessary for all young Cuban men. I understand now that Cuba is faced with military aggression; we are the ones who have to defend our nation. Thats why its necessary for all Cuban young men go through the training period to prepare themselves for military service.

«Im telling you; now "at home" I do chores I didnt even think about doing before. I fix things and help keep everything organized. I can tell you that in the future, if it depends on me, my children will have no reason to skip the training period, let alone military service! Why not?! So far, it has been the best way to shape us up.»

This is the result of the work of a group of officials in a unit that conducts six training periods a year with recruits from Havana province. These are the words of a soldier that has spent fifty days in Basic Military Training and who has discovered that discipline is austere, but generous.

Source: By Dainerys Mesa Padron, Juventud Rebelde

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