Marine Corps Base Quantico --
“When 9/11 happened, I was horrified,” said Denise Slater, the Latin America and Cultural Analyst for the Regional Culture and Language Familiarization Program, part of the Center of Advanced Operational Culture Learning at Marine Corps University. “I arrived back here from vacationing in Brazil the day before it happened.”
Since 2012 she has been working as the Latin America SME and researcher as part of the Regional Culture and Language Familiarization program at the CAOCL. At RCLF she is responsible for identifying topics of regional relevance, conducting research and development of academic curriculum on all Latin America’s sub region. Areas of research include Latin American culture, political institutions, social-economic issues, security, governance, regional issues and regional militaries.
Slater, a Brazilian-born U.S. citizen since 1997, found out through the newspaper the 9/11 terrorists were in Virginia Beach and receiving funds from the bank across the from her daughter’s daycare it put everything in perspective for her. Working was no longer about making money; it was about helping and serving her new country.
“It was too close to home for me, you could walk to the bank it was that close. I knew right then I wanted to use my multi-cultural and multi-language skills to help protect my new country,” she said.
Slater’s came to the United States in 1976 when she left Rio de Janeiro at 11 years old to accompany her family. Her father, now retired, Brazilian Army Lt. Gen. Paulo Roberto Uchoa was a captain at the time and was invited to Fort Benning, Ga. to attend the advanced infantry course.
Slater and her sister were the first students enrolled at the local elementary school who spoke Portuguese. To help transition her into the new surroundings she was placed in Spanish classes.
“Not only was I trying to learn English, but they were trying to teach me Spanish at the same time. It was very confusing,” Slater said. After four months of being in public elementary school, Slater slowly started to learn English.
In the summer of 1990, when Slater’s father was a colonel, he was invited back to the United States to work for the Army Training and Doctrine Command as the Brazilian liaison officer at Fort Monroe, Va. He asked her to move back to the United States and work on her master’s degree at Old Dominion University in Norfolk, Va.
While attending ODU, Slater met her future husband the first day of class and got married the following spring semester. Ironically, Slater and her husband were enrolled in the same degree program, attended same classes and graduated together earning a Master’s degree in international studies.
“Now we’ve both have been here at Quantico, working at the CAOCL,” said Slater. “It just happened that we had the same interests.” Her husband, Dr. Matthew Slater, is the senior plans and policy analyst for the CAOCL.
In 2007 in a partnership with her alma mater ODU she was recruited by defense contractor ITA International to become their Language Director and create a 175 hour Portuguese, Spanish and French language program for a cross cultural training program. She also coordinated and supervised all regional studies prepared by ODU professors and taught to Navy personnel.
In 2009, after Marines from the Security Cooperation Group at Fort Story, Virginia Beach, attended her classes, CAOCL invited her to move to Quantico and become their senior analyst at the Latin America Desk. Here, for four years Slater has trained Marines who were scheduled to deploy to Latin America, developed country study guides and other publications on most countries in the region.
“I love what I do. I feel I am bridge between two worlds that don’t know each other very well. Most importantly, I help Marines understand the people they are going to work with in Latin America,” said Slater. “At the end of day, I’m doing exactly what I wanted to do since I was 18 years old in Brazil, but for my adopted country.”