Resilience in the Rwandan Army
by Hannah Grace Bauman
In 2016, I trained with the Rwandan Defense Force through an Army ROTC cultural exchange program. On the first morning of training, I filed out of a bus with my American counterparts and was instructed to join a platoon during their morning drills. We shyly approached the Rwandan platoons as they marched in complicated rhythms, perfectly in unison and beautifully coordinated. Clumsily, I attempted to imitate the movements and follow the new commands. Soldiers giggled at my attempts, and soon a Rwandan cadet named Fred emerged offering to be my “buddy-buddy” and official training partner. Fred was kind and patient but teemed with unrelenting grit. He was always ready to push further while encouraging peers to follow his lead.
The Rwandan soldiers were remarkable, characterized by admirable perseverance and tenacity. During their training years, Rwandan cadets operate on a grueling schedule, running approximately 15 miles a day, marching for hours between runs and functioning on just three to four hours of sleep per night. Despite physical exhaustion, they strive to excel at every training event while remaining supportive and kind to their comrades.
As I marched with the soldiers, many approached me wanting to share their stories. They said they had joined the military to keep Rwanda safe and to prevent violent uprisings from occurring ever again. Numerous soldiers had lost their families during the 1994 genocide when an estimated 800,000 people were killed in the space of 100 days. Instead of pursuing retribution against the perpetrators, these men and women chose to dedicate their lives to maintain a peaceful nation for future generations.
Working with the Rwandan Army was a formative experience as I witnessed how deeply each soldier committed him or herself to Rwanda’s nonviolent future. Their ongoing pursuit of reconciliation was deeply inspiring, and I left the country feeling humbled and honored to have learned from these individuals. Over the two years of my Fellowship at El Pomar Foundation, I hope to encourage and mentor my “buddy-buddies” as Fred did for me, and to explore the ways in which I can commit myself as wholeheartedly and selflessly to my community as the men and women of the Rwandan Army do for theirs. Ultimately, I want to emulate how these men and women foster stability and cultural prosperity in their homes, communities and nation.
Hannah Grace Bauman joined El Pomar Foundation as a member of the 2019 Fellowship class. As a Fellow, Hannah Grace works on American Council of Young Political Leaders, Regional Partnerships, Forum for Civic Advancement and the Western Legislative Academy. In addition, Hannah Grace supports the High Country region. Read more about Hannah Grace here.