JULY 18, 2016, ATLANTIC OCEAN (NNS) – When many Americans dream of experiencing something “exotic,” they often picture tropical climates, rain forests, and sandy beaches. For Brazilian navy Lt. Almir Fonseca, it’s just the opposite.
A native of Rio De Janeiro, Brazil, Fonseca has dreamt of traveling to new places and experiencing new cultures since he was a child. Today, he is fulfilling his dream as he serves aboard the U.S. amphibious transport dock USS San Antonio (LPD 17).
“To me, this is a great honor,” Fonseca said. “It’s a chance to be involved in international operations and learn from a state-of-the-art Navy.”
Fonseca has been a member of San Antonio’s crew since June 2015, and he has two-year orders. It was a competitive assignment to obtain — one that Fonseca said he didn’t expect to get.
He is a participant in the U.S. Navy’s personnel exchange program (PEP), a program created to allow personnel to temporarily swap between U.S. military branches as well as partner nation militaries. The exchanges are a chance to share technical knowledge between participating nations and foster military-to-military relations.
“If there was one challenge I had, it is the language,” Fonseca said. “But even that is not so much of a challenge. Since I was 11, I started studying English. I watched movies in English, sometimes with subtitles. I always wanted to travel to see other cultures and have more opportunities as a naval officer, so I needed English.”
Foreign language training is a requirement for participation in PEP, as the exchanged service member must be able to communicate effectively with the host nation military they will integrate into. All though he hadn’t studied English since 2002, Fonseca picked it up again just before receiving his orders and communicates easily with the rest of San Antonio’s crew.
He is now integrated into the ship’s day-to-day operations, where his previous naval experience comes in handy.
“There are some differences [between our navies], but they are also very similar,” Fonseca said. “We don’t have ships as big as this, but our procedures are almost the same. We operate the ships in the same way. Many of the names we have for things are the same, and many of the watches are the same.”
Fonseca joined the Brazilian navy in 1998, where he served on four ships, spending four years patrolling the rivers of the Amazon rain forest.
Describing his role in the Brazilian navy, Fonseca said much of his time in the Amazon was devoted to providing assistance for small remote towns, villages and tribes, as well as providing border security.
In contrast, U.S. naval operations are far from being local, with the U.S. Coast Guard undertaking most border security efforts. However, the international mission of the U.S. Navy is virtually the same as Brazil’s — foster international relations, provide humanitarian assistance, keep international trade routes clear for global commerce, and provide security to allied nations.
This is Fonseca’s first time traveling to the 5th and 6th Fleet areas of operations. He said he looks forward to experiencing other cultures on the deployment, and to grow as a naval officer through knowledge and experience.
San Antonio is deployed with the Wasp Amphibious Ready Group (ARG) to support maritime security operations and theater security cooperation efforts in the U.S. 5th and 6th Fleet areas of operations.
The Wasp ARG consists of Commander, Amphibious Squadron 6, amphibious assault ship USS Wasp (LHD 1), amphibious transport dock USS San Antonio (LPD 17), amphibious dock landing ship USS Whidbey Island (LSD 41), and the embarked 22nd Marine Expeditionary Unit. Also attached are Helicopter Sea Combat Squadron (HSC) 22 and Assault Craft Unit (ACU) 4.
U.S. 6th Fleet, headquartered in Naples, Italy, conducts the full spectrum of joint and naval operations, often in concert with allied, joint, and interagency partners in order to advance U.S. national interests and security and stability in Europe and Africa.