Taiwan frogmen train to leap into action

Culture & CustomDepartments

Story and Photo by Reuters

A chill wind whips across the Taiwan Strait as a small group of Taiwan Marines stands shivering on a remote dock in the early morning, their shorts and thin jackets drenched after a day spent mostly in the sea.

“Are you a sleeping beauty? Are you skipping out on class?” a trainer shouts at the wiry men, who have barely slept in days, as they do situps and other exercises on the rough concrete floor, some fading in and out of consciousness from fatigue. Blasts of cold water from a hose bring them to their senses.

Entry into the Taiwan Navy’s elite Amphibious Reconnaissance and Patrol (ARP) unit — its answer to the United States Navy SEALs or the United Kingdom’s Special Boat Service — is not for the faint of heart. In the event of war with the People’s Republic of China, which claims the democratic island as its own and has stepped up its military and political pressure against Taiwan, ARP frogmen could find themselves spirited across the strait in small boats under cover of night to scout enemy locations and call in attacks.

Of the 31 Marines who started the 10-week course, only 15 finished, with the closing week at the sprawling Zuoying Navy Base in southern Taiwan as the last test.

“I’m not scared of death,” Fu Yu, 30, said after completing the “road to heaven,” a final obstacle course consisting of a 100-meter-long stretch of rocks over which trainees must scramble and do tasks such as pushups to the satisfaction of their trainers.

“It’s a Soldier’s responsibility, what we must do,” added Fu, who had previously failed to complete the course.

Over six days and five nights, the volunteers to enter the ARP have to endure everything from long marches to hours in the water, with constant screaming by their instructors. A lot of their time is spent in the sea or swimming pools, learning how to hold their breath for extended periods, swimming in full combat gear and infiltrating beaches.

Every six hours they have a one-hour break. In that time, they have to eat — scarfing down bulbs of garlic to boost their immune systems — get medical attention, go to the toilet and sleep. They may only sleep for five minutes, huddled on the floor under light green blankets, awakened with shrill whistle blasts. The aim is to push the Marines to develop an iron will to complete their mission no matter how difficult and to develop steadfast loyalty to their comrades and the military.

The candidates are all volunteers, driven to join the special forces out of patriotism and a desire to push their personal limits. Wu Yu-wei, 26, said he considered it a personal challenge to complete the course. “The hardest part was the timing, not being able to rest, having only 15 minutes to use the toilet, have a gulp of water, before moving on to the next section,” he said. “The first few days are exhausting, and then you get used to it. You have to rely on your will power and determination.”

Once across the road to heaven and congratulated by Marine Corps Commander Wang Jui-lin, the stress of the past week is too much for some Marines, who burst into tears in the arms of proud family members invited to see them graduate.

The trainers, all graduates of the course, say the intention of the week of hell is not cruelty but to simulate the hardships of war, such as extreme sleep deprivation, to see who has the stamina and guts to make it.

“Of course, we absolutely won’t force anyone. Everyone is here voluntarily. That’s why we are so severe with them and also eliminate them strictly,” said trainer Chen Shou-lih, 26. “We won’t just wave you through only because you wanted to come.”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *