Condensed milk spilled

Image: Christiana Carvalho


Memoirs of a recruit in Brazil full of perks

The scandal about the Ministry of Defense's spending on condensed milk brought back many memories of when I did my mandatory military service, in an army quartermaster's quarters in Curitiba. A quartermaster's quarters, according to the website of the Brazilian Army (EB), houses the “masters of supply and finance”. It is said that General Pazuello, the current Minister of Health, is one of those masters at providing supplies.

I served as an EB soldier for two years. The first, for the mandatory service and, subsequently, as engaged, which is nothing more than continuing after this initial period as an employee. I stayed because I saw it not as a mission (laughs), but as a job that paid more than I could get in a job like office boy. That was some time ago, it was in the late 1990s.

The life of a soldier in the EB boils down, in his first months, to memorizing some basic rules. I think they can be divided into three main ones:

1 – Learn what left and right are. Not in the ideological sense, but in the sense of body orientation. Without this skill, it will be impossible to correctly perform one of the main functions of the life of an EB military, which is to carry out, without errors, the United Order. At this moment, the words that echo in the ears of all soldiers are: turn right, turn left, half turn turn. According to Wikipedia, the united order has the function of developing discipline, self-control, sense of group, self-esteem (?) and physical development. I recently discovered, motivated to write this text, that there is a manual with more than 250 pages on the fundamentals of the United Order. I think I must carry some trauma for spending hours executing orders, usually with the sun at its peak, because, until today, I tend to make some confusions with left and right commands.

2 – Very important! Learn to distinguish the ranks of the military. The reason is simple: the obligation to salute everyone, at all times, as long as they have a patent. As the armed forces are constituted by hierarchy and not by equality, soldiers do not salute those who are at the same hierarchical level. So, not to make a fool of yourself, it's reasonable to learn all of the above badges. The higher the rank, the more vigorously salute should be given. Along with understanding patents, one also learns a sense of inferiority: never questioning and saying, without interruption, yes sir, no sir.

3 – Learn all the lyrics to the main EB songs. Memorizing the lyrics of the national anthem is a necessity for survival. That's because there is the Braço Forte inspector. That's right. In that stanza, if you sing “If the pledge of this equality we can conquer with strong arms”, using the plural, you will probably be singing alone, a cappella, in front of everyone. It is a duty to learn the trick of the EB motto “Strong Arm, friendly hand”.

In addition to these fundamental routines in the life of a recruit, others are interspersed over the course of a year of military service, including:

The weekly performance of the TFM (Military Physical Training), which should be the same practiced by the army since the War in Paraguay. It consists of performing various exercises with the aim of screwing someone else's knee. Apart from this sadistic exercise, soldiers also run. When someone made a mistake, he was in danger of running around with a headband on his head and shouting “I am Rambo, I am Rambo”. The educational objective is to make the soldier more attentive to commands. Obviously, this rudimentary TFM model is applied to recruits. Officers, in general, use this time intended for body training to play a few football matches, within office hours, then a paid soccer game.

Shooting training is also part of it, but this is an extraordinary event that involves a lot of anxiety on the part of the soldiers who can finally feel that emotion from the movies and the smell of gunpowder. On the officers' side, it's something necessary to “train” a soldier for a possible war, imagine a soldier who doesn't know how to use a Fal 7,62. After a few months of training to learn how to clean, assemble and disassemble the rifle comes the big day of firing a dozen shots. That's right, the vast majority won't train more than once and fire a few shots. In my case, I reached the average of most of my colleagues: 3 hits in 12 attempts. Ready for war.

Other routine activities of a soldier are linked to the maintenance of barracks. Are those images that saw memes on the Internet. Washing cars, painting curbs, mowing lawns, painting walls, fixing furniture, pruning trees. After basic training, these consist of the longest working time for a recruit, in addition to the duty roster to be a watchman at the guardhouses. By the way, the use of soldiers for maintenance tasks is not limited to barracks, it could be an isolated fact, but I remember a major who always assigned a recruit to wash his dishes at his house. In this case, a driver was still shifted so that the service could be carried out. Shining other people's boots was also one of the essential activities of the soldiers. I think that, in fact, the great purpose of compulsory military service is to provide cheap and obedient labor for the maintenance of the barracks. These activities would probably be less burdensome for the state if they were outsourced, but officers would certainly be left without someone to teach the united order and satisfy their sadisms.

After I finished basic military training that would make me a true defender in the nation, I was assigned to work in the barracks (ranch) kitchen. They asked if he could cook and he said yes. I later found out that those who work in the kitchen are not seen as true soldiers and are nicknamed “pink beret” or “lard foot”. I started my activities on the ranch as a “rancheiro”, which would be a kind of handyman, washing the floors and dishes, peeling potatoes, unloading trucks with food, etc. On the ranch, the most prestigious activity is that of cook, which offered very attractive advantages such as not having to wash the dishes and fulfilling work schedules for the shifts (cook of the day) a little better. In the kitchen of the barracks where I worked, a civil cook in his sixties was in charge. They said that he was a prisoner who, during the military regime, worked in the barracks and, when democracy came, he was incorporated as a civil servant due to the grace granted by a general. I don't know how much of that story was true, but everyone respected him, with a certain air of fear. In the hierarchy of soldiers the date of birth is the metric scale of seniority. The older you are, even by days, the better ranked you would be, this includes your number as a soldier. Mine was one of the last soldiers on the ranch. When there was a vacancy for cook, it was the civilian cook who gave the order to the lieutenant that I be promoted. This, obviously, was not well seen by the other “older” soldiers, having suffered some minor attacks during my stopovers, but nothing that a good war strategy could not reverse the adversities to my benefit. Having played WAR was of great help for my EB years.

As every process of social distinction also goes through what is put at the table, I could not fail to talk about how this occurred in the barracks where I served. First, there is a separation of spaces reserved for corporals and soldiers and those reserved for officers. The first is called the ranch, the second the casino.

In the first, the nutritional diet consisted of a variation of rice, beans, farofa, pasta and chicken. Beef was served in two ways, as ground beef (grated beef) or in minced meat. The salad was always cabbage. You could choose between water or tea, whose nickname was “brochante tea”. At breakfast there was always coffee, powdered milk dissolved in water and bread with margarine, no condensed milk. At the end of the year festivities, Greek-style rice was served with a roast.

In the casino, meals were served by waiter-soldiers. There were a variety of salads and always a roast. The preparation of stuffed meat, shrimp bobó or moqueca, among other things, was constant. For dessert, there was no shortage of milk pudding. But it wasn't the everyday meals that drew attention. Military people like parties, there is always a date to celebrate: day of the soldier, the army, the quartermaster, the flag, the independence, the proclamation of the republic and the 1st of April. At these events we were on hand to serve good food and drink to the officers. What intrigued me the most were Fridays, the day that, in general, the military works part-time. While soldiers went home at midday, officers took the opportunity to celebrate with barbecue and beer. Some soldiers were scheduled for cleaning. Years later, living in the Bacacheri neighborhood, which concentrates several barracks in Curitiba, every Friday, invariably, at 11 am, there was the traditional smell of barbecue coming from inside one of the EB barracks, accompanied by the sounds of fraternization, music and laughter, which lasted until the end of the afternoon. I imagine how frequent the parties at the headquarters of the General Staff of the EB in the federal capital must be.

I don't think EB should be extinct, just professionalized. That would certainly mean ending mandatory military service, which recruits only working-class children, often with no options for other jobs. But this employment alternative cannot mean the subservience and exploitation of the dignity of thousands of young people under the illusion of transforming them into soldiers or good citizens. Much of what I saw in the two years at EB translates into humiliations that only served to feed egos and satisfy the desire for superiority in an unequal and hierarchical society. Officials should remember that before being “warriors”, they are civil servants.

Part of the good service provided by EB during catastrophic events or national campaigns, such as vaccination, for example, could also be carried out by firefighters (not necessarily linked to the PMs) or by family health professionals. I think the army should concentrate its forces on national borders and not on capital cities. But a real debate about reforming the military is unlikely to occur until we reach democratic adulthood. Meanwhile, as I read in a comment on one of the many postsof social networks in response to the millions of reais used in the purchase of condensed milk by the Ministry of Defense: “this way we will not even win the war against the scale”.

*Captain Cook is a doctor in sociology and professor.


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