AFSOUTH Liaison Officers: A blending of cultures
By Jessica Casserly, 12th Air Force (Air Forces Southern) Public Affairs
/ Published November 24, 2014
DAVIS-MONTHAN AFB, Ariz. -- (This feature is part of the "AFSOUTH Liaison Officers" series. These stories focus on a single Air Forces Southern liaison officer, highlighting their experience serving as their country's representative to the AFSOUTH Commander.)
Colonel Alexandre Alves was surprised when he received a call informing him that he had been selected to serve as the next Air Forces Southern Brazilian Liaison Officer at Davis-Monthan.
Representing his country to the AFSOUTH Commander was not something Alves could have fathomed when he started his Brazilian air force career at the age of 13.
"I have been serving in the Brazilian air force since 1985," Alves said. "In Brazil, we have a military high school and the years we attend there count toward our military service."
Despite his youth, Alves knew that being a pilot was what he wanted to do and that the military was the best way to see that dream become a reality.
"I have wanted to be a pilot since I was old enough to think for myself," Alves said. "Becoming a civilian pilot in Brazil is expensive, so I decided if I wanted to be a pilot and achieve my dream, I would need to do it through our military."
His determination and ability to excel in the cockpit and the classroom propelled Alves forward in his career, ultimately preparing him for the AFSOUTH Brazilian LNO position.
"I had to have knowledge of my air force's higher headquarters, I had 20 years with flying squadrons, I had completed certain courses and with this knowledge, I was eligible to come here and perform this job," Alves said.
There are many professional and personal advantages that come with an opportunity like this and Alves recognizes the unique cultural experiences available to him and his family living in the United States.
"It is a very good opportunity, especially for my son," Alves said. "I think nowadays it is important to know how to speak English. My wife is also taking an English course at the University of Arizona."
Learning English is not the only new challenge Alves and his family have tackled since arriving at Davis-Monthan, they are also getting used to a new daily routine.
"It is a completely different culture from Brazil," Alves said. "We have very different customs when it comes to meal times and schedules."
Tyrone Barbery, the AFSOUTH LNO General Program Manager, understands Alves' struggle to adjust to a new culture. He made the same transition himself after moving to the United States from his native Ecuador.
"In South America they eat lunch at about 1:30 or 2 p.m. and dinner at about 8 or 9 p.m.," Barbery said. "The days start and end earlier here in the United States. In South America, it's common to be up with friends and family or at the movies until midnight in the middle of the week."
While their new life at Davis-Monthan may be very different, Alves and his family are finding ways to blend their new experiences with their Brazilian heritage.
"We have met a lot of Brazilians at the University of Arizona," Alves said. "We have met about forty or fifty Brazilians and Brazilian families since we have lived here. We had a Halloween party together last month and my wife has lunch every week with Brazilian friends. It is nice that we are not alone, we have a Brazilian community here."
Americans and Brazilians may have differences culturally, but when it comes to their passion for serving in their respective countries' military it is hard to distinguish between a U.S. and a Brazilian service member. No matter the native language or the uniform, one of the most profound lessons of the LNO program is that at the core we are all the same. Whether Peruvian, Colombian, Chilean, Brazilian or American, air force members of all these countries share a similar story of family tradition or love of country that propelled them toward a life of military service.
As he reflects on his time left as the AFSOUTH Brazilian LNO, Alves hopes to capitalize on mutual opportunities for training and knowledge sharing.
"I hope that we can maintain these exchanges with the U.S. Air Force," Alves said. "For example, in fiscal year 2015 the Brazilian air force plans to do 25 events with the U.S. and the U.S. Air Force plans to do 26 events in Brazil. I hope that we can maintain and even increase these exchanges. They are very important to us."