RESENDE, Brazil –
As the sun set at the Agulhas Negras Military Academy in Resende, Brazil, Staff Sgt. Shayne Hayes readied his gear for another night in the elements. Hills, mountains, rivers and swamps surround him as he prepared for an early morning mock-raid of an urban town during Southern Vanguard 22, a combined air assault exercise with the U.S. and Brazilian armies.
Hayes is a weapons squad leader assigned to Bulldog Company, 1st Battalion, 187th Infantry Regiment, 3rd Brigade Combat Team “Rakkasans,” 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault). He felt compelled to defend the country following the terrorist attacks of 9/11 so Hayes, a native of McHenry, Ill., joined the Army in 2016.
“I remember watching 9/11 on TV when I was younger, and as I grew up I wanted to give back to our country,” Hayes said. “Honestly, I believe everyone should do their part to better this country, and this is me doing my part.”
Hayes grew as a leader as he rose through the ranks and decided to take one of the many schools the Army has to offer in order to expand his professional development and his unit's professionalism.
“As a leader in an air assault division, I knew it would increase the lethality of my company and my battalion by becoming a Pathfinder,” he said. “I’m also very interested in history, so knowing the pathfinders’ history from past conflicts and being told how difficult the course is, I wanted to challenge myself to get my torch.”
The U.S. Army Pathfinder School is a three-week course teaching Soldiers to navigate and establish a safe landing zone for air assault or airborne operations in foreign territory; including setting up helicopter landing zones, drop zones, rigging sling loads and providing air traffic control. Upon graduation from the course, Soldiers receive the Pathfinder badge - represented by a burning torch guiding a wing.
During his attendance in the course in September 2020, Hayes met Maj. Rafael Marcos da Costa Ribeiro from the Brazilian Army. At the time da Costa was part of the Army’s Military Personnel Exchange Program serving as the deputy commander of the Sabalauski Air Assault School at Fort Campbell, Ky. While there, he set out to become a Pathfinder.
“Being assigned as the deputy commander of an air assault unit, I thought it was important to know every fundamental detail about air assault operations,” da Costa said. “I believe leaders should be subject to adversity in order to build mental, physical and emotional fortitude. I went through a lot of adversity at Pathfinder school.”
Due to the low pass rate of the Pathfinder course, Hayes and da Costa became study partners in order to ensure they didn’t become part of the failure statistic.
The mutual respect the men gained for each other’s professionalism, mental aptitude and physical ability helped them to not only forge a professional relationship but also a genuine friendship. However, they lost contact due to the demands of military service once the course was over.
Fourteen months later, Hayes found himself in Lorena, Brazil with his unit for the beginning of Southern Vanguard 22 and started talking with Brazilian soldiers. Hayes mentioned going to Pathfinder school with a Brazilian officer, and one soldier instantly recognized whom Hayes was referring to and texted da Costa.
Da Costa, the assistant G3 operations officer for Southern Vanguard 22 with the Brazilian Army’s 12th Light Infantry Brigade (Air Assault), 2nd Division, was planning and executing the live-fire during the exercise. Without hesitation, da Costa made the two-hour drive from Resende, where the air assault took place, to Lorena in order to see Hayes.
“I was extremely surprised to see Maj. da Costa and even more surprised to find out he was part of the exercise,” Hayes said. “We are thousands of miles from home, and the coincidence of seeing someone who I never thought I would see again was really amazing!”
Da Costa shared the excitement in the opportunity to see his friend and fellow Pathfinder.
“It was great to reunite with Hayes,” da Costa said. “We saluted each other as old friends, hugged as brothers and shared many laughs.”
The experience Hayes and da Costa shared at Pathfinder School was passed on to the American and Brazilian soldiers participating in the exercise.
“The Soldiers at every rank are building bonds that may turn into great friendships,” da Costa said. “One day our militaries will work together again and the Soldiers may reunite. When they do, we will have improved interoperability because we are fighting alongside our friends.”