When you think of gruelling military training, it’s easy to think of the well-known Special Forces training schools worldwide.
But while the British S.A.S and US Navy Seals make the headlines with their punishing selection trials, other more ‘conventional’ units have been humbly developing their own for centuries.
In fact, many of these regiments have training programs to rival these units in terms of the fitness levels required. The exercises incorporated have been born from lengthy wars and civil unrest, and aim to break a recruit down – punishing them physically and mentally.
In this article, we will take a brief look at three military forces and their training approaches. The units vary enormously, but their approach is ultimately the same; getting a man ready for battle!
Force Reconnaissance (AKA Force Recon or RECON,) is an elite unit of the United States Marine Corps’. Their official mission is to infiltrate behind enemy lines, and attack key targets.
The dangerous missions they have actually completed to date, can be compared to the S.A.S missions of WW2. They have been involved in sabotage and prisoner rescue attacks in Vietnam, and have operated in desert, jungle and urban terrains.
The training that recruits endure to call themselves Recon Marines, is without question one of the toughest courses in the US Armed Forces. To be accepted onto the course in the first place, recruits have to be serving Marines with 3 years experience, and excellent physical fitness.
They work in teams and by themselves throughout their training, and are pushed to their mental and physical limits with regular 20 mile marches and team events. One particularly gruelling activity is the boat race. This involves small teams of marines carrying an assault boat over their heads, and racing towards a finishing point against other teams.
As a final test in the training, the recruits have a long distance march carrying substitutes for wounded men on their backs. In the final stages of this march, their training officer’s tear gas them at close range, and push them to carry on until the end!
French Foreign Legion is one of the most interesting regiments in military history. Established in 1831 by King Louis Philippe, the legion has functioned as a connected but separate regiment of the French military.
Its uniqueness as a fighting regiment can be seen in the fact that it allows people without French citizenship to join up. It has historically allowed people from nations all over the world to fight and die for France, and 40,000 have done so to date.
In order to prepare its international recruits for action, a ruthless training period has been developed for hundreds of years. This period, which comes in the form of a 16 week marathon of physical tests, involves a wide variety of team and individual exercises.
One such challenge is the ‘Marche Képi Blanc’ (white cap march.) As the name suggests, this long march in full kit is completed by the recruits in order to receive their white cap of the legion. The 31 miler is merely an introduction to training though, so any recruits believing this is the end will be in for a very nasty surprise.
They also have to complete another 75 mile march in three days, and have continual physical fitness testing involving runs and classic gym-based tests. During the training, they also live in the Pyrenees and complete mountain climbing and survival training.
When it comes to regular British military regiments, it doesn’t get much more elite than the Royal Marine Commandos [Editor: Think the Paras might object a bit to this sentence Dan]. The Royal Marines exist as a Royal Navy regiment, but are an amphibious force which can be deployed in both land and sea engagements.
The regiment has been tested most recently in Afghanistan, where they fought against Taliban fighters in a form of warfare which the regiment rarely experiences.
The Green Beret which the Royal Marines wear with pride is a symbol of everything they represent. The training which is completed at ‘Commando Training Centre Royal Marines’ in Southern England, lasts 31 weeks and pushes the recruits to their absolute physical and mental limits.
As the regiment is amphibious, swimming is a key element of the training. The swimming is treated as a hard cardiovascular test in a non-impact environment, but running, marching and speed marching are also vital in improving the recruits’ fitness levels.
In terms of marching, a 30 mile march has to be completed in less than 8 hours, and a 9 mile speed-march has to be finished in under 90 minutes. The speed marches in full kit are particularly punishing on the legs of the men, testing their quadriceps and calves, as well as their mental endurance.
One particularly infamous test, which has to be built up to through targeted training, is the Tarzan Assault Course. This massive obstacle course of walls and ropes has to be finished in under 13 minutes, with full kit. To do this, the recruit has to run at the pace of an 800m runner!