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CMA Battalion Commander sets example for fellow cadets

Posted: October 19, 2015 6:29 p.m.
Updated: October 20, 2015 1:00 a.m.
Tenell Felder/C-I

Santiago Villalobos is a senior at Camden Military Academy and was chosen to be Battalion Commander. He plans to major in engineering or chemical engineering in college.

Camden Military Academy (CMA) senior Santiago Villalobos’ knows his rank of battalion commander carries much responsibility -- and he believes he is up to the challenge.

“Battalion Commander… it’s equivalent to student body president,” Villalobos said. “You earn the position through your merit; how the staff sees you. I do all the jobs a normal student body president would do. I also have to take care of 240 cadets and make sure they are doing what they are supposed to be doing.”

Villalobos was born in the United States and moved to Brazil when he was 7. He lived there with his family until starting high school at CMA.

“Coming from Brazil, I would have never imagined this would be my future,” Villalobos said of being selected as CMA’s battalion commander. 

Villalobos said he dealt with culture shock when he first arrived in Camden. Even after four years of being in the U.S., he says he still compares things to his home.

“Every day is a comparison,” Villalobos said. “I could say I did get used to the United States a bit, but I wasn’t aware of my surroundings yet. I, technically, grew up Brazil. That’s where I got all my habits from. When I got to Camden, it was a cultural shock. I couldn’t relate as well as some else from, say, California could.”

A particular struggle Villalobos remembers was learning to think in English. 

“I could say it went smoothly, but it didn’t go smoothly in my head. I might have seemed calm and was really trying my best to learn all these new things, but in my head it was extremely difficult,” Villalobos said. “There are just some things you can’t predict that others can because of your different ways of thinking. You have to learn how to think in English.”

He said he doesn’t resent the process of acclimating to U.S. culture because it has helped him assist other international CMA students, including his brother, who is now enrolled at CMA as a freshman. 

“That’s what I’m trying to help my brother with. It’s a real cultural shock. I know Chinese students, a Japanese student and some European students who all face the same thing. So I’m really glad I can help them with that. I encourage them if they have a problem with it come talk to me because I’ve been through the exact same thing,” Villalobos said.

He said he also recognizes going through the transition will enable him to be successful in an American college. He is currently looking at colleges throughout the country to attend and believes his time and courses at CMA have prepared him well.

“The great thing about this school is wherever you want to go it will prepare you for it and give you the resources you need,” Villalobos said, adding he is currently enrolled in four dual college courses.

He hopes to major in engineering or chemical engineering.

“I will be planning to go to college … I’ve been looking at University of Michigan, University of Illinois. I think the most prestigious is the University of Chicago, which is the most difficult to get in to,” Villalobos said.

Villalobos is proud of his school and he particularly spoke about CMA’s Blackjack military drill team.

“For teenagers to have the discipline to do what men are doing in the armed services is really demanding,” he said. “We consider them the best of the best at this school because the discipline to do that requires you to be the best of the best. We are really proud of them.”

As with any student in a leadership role, Villalobos helps organize some events and serves as an example to his fellow cadets. He also serves as the liaison between the student body and administration.

“I have to set an example … make sure the meal positions are correct, manage some parades which would be for community service or for honoring former staff members. We do try to improve the community; recently we allowed cadets to spend $2 of their bank account to give support for the flooding,” Villalobos said.

Villalobos is looking forward to his future and believes his current position will assist him in reaching his goals. “The responsibility of this role tends to help a lot in leadership positions and dealing with people. It gives you a big advantage in industry, the workforce and college.”

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