Cadet Campbell studying at Brazilian Military Academy

Published 8:26 am Wednesday, March 9, 2022

From Pope to Rio de Janeiro

By Jake Davis

Eli Campbell never gave much thought to studying abroad.

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The South Panola High School graduate had never left Mississippi for an extended period of time before becoming a cadet of the United States Military Academy in West Point, NY, in the fall of 2019.

He’s now studying in Rio De Janeiro, Brazil, in a military academy founded in the 1700s, and considered to be among the best military and engineering education academies in the Americas.

Campbell set his sights on an appointment to the prestigious West Point Military Academy as a freshman in high school  and completed a rigorous application process that culminated with nominations from Mississippi’s Congressional delegation, led by Rep. Bennie Thompson, Sen. Roger Wicker, and Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith.

Campbell, the son of Thad and Emy Campbell and the grandson of Mike and Brenda Campbell of Pope and Ronnie and Jonnie Hendricks. He was reared in Pope and in high school was a member of the Beta Club, the National Honor Society, and a four-year member of the R.O.T.C.

He played baseball in Batesville and played football team four years, serving as the the long-snapper his junior and señor seasons. Campbell was also a student assistant coach for the Tigers’ powerlifting team.

Representatives and Senators make nominations to the Academy, but appointment decisions come from the U.S. Army.  Campbell also had nominations to the U.S. Naval Academy and the U.S. Air Force Academy.

About 3,000 applications are seriously considered by the Academy from the roughly 15,000 nominations received. Class sizes vary from year to year based on need and Congressional approvals.

Campbell started as a geospatial and information sciences major at the Academy, taking raw data and transforming it into tangible information that is easily digestible.

“My freshman year I didn’t have any interest in going abroad, it didn’t really even cross my mind or anything,” Campbell said.

He began studying Portuguese during his sophomore year, and realized he had a passion for language.

“Everybody is required to take a foreign language here as part of the curriculum,” Campbell said. “I was assigned Portuguese as mine… and I developed an interest in it.”

His first Portuguese instructor at the academy was a Brazilian colonel who inspired Campbell and sparked his interest in studying abroad.

“During COVID we were locked down, couldn’t leave our  post… and I kind of realized after talking to my Brazilian colonel how much is out there in the world that I don’t know about, and I won’t be able to see if I just stay here,” he said.

Campbell began exploring options for exchange programs in the military, settling on the Academia Militar das Agulhas Negras, or AMAN, in Rio De Janeiro, Brazil.

“Colonel Franco went to AMAN and that kind of sparked my interest in going there because he was such a great person, great teacher,” Campbell said. “I wanted to go there to see it and learn about it.”

The academy, founded by Queen Mar I of Portugal in 1792, is the oldest military academy in the Americas and the largest of several military academies in Brazil. It is considered the pioneer of military and engineering education in the Americas, and is modeled after the elite Militar Academ in Lisbon, Portugal.

Campbell switched his major to Portuguese last semester in anticipation of the move, citing the high course load associated with geospatial and information sciences and a desire to further his language studies.

“The course load was just going to be insane if I stayed a GIS major and went to Brazil, so I swapped to Portuguese,” Campbell said. “I found language more interesting… I really want to perfect the language [in Brazil].”

Campbell believes the experience will put him in a good position to land a position as a foreign advisory officer in South America after graduating from West Point.

“Eventually, maybe five to eight years after I graduate I’d like to be a FAO,” says Campbell. “What they do is they go live in a host country… and advise the ambassador there, or work in the embassy or a consulate or something like that.”

Campbell hopes his story will inspire others to pursue their passions and explore more of the world around them.

“(Colonel Franco) inspired me in a way to, once COVID is over, to take advantage of these opportunities because you never know when you can’t do it.”

Photo: Eli Campbell with his Meu canga (sponsor/battle buddy) in Brazil.  The Brazil Cadet’s name is Pedro Rezende Martins. The hand gestures they are making is the Calvary sign, which is the branch his is with at the school. (Contributed)