Mon,Nov 25,2013

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No holds barred training for elite force

By Hou Liqiang (China Daily)    08:38, November 25, 2013
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Cui Erwei, the winner of a special forces marksman competition, wears camouflage while taking part in a training exercise in June. [Photo provided to China Daily]

Kicks to the face or shooting a rifle after 5-km run all part of day's work

Soldiers crawl forward in the mud as icy water is poured onto their bodies from a fire truck. They then jump into a pool and are prevented from getting out by a man in a black mask who kicks their faces or shoulders. Explosions constantly ring out nearby.

Welcome to a "light" training exercise with the People's Liberation Army's special forces.

"We do a lot harsher things to train our soldiers, in scorching hot and freezing cold conditions," Assistant Commander Wu Haiyan said.

"We have them walk 50 kilometers over mountains and through jungles, each carrying 35 kilograms of equipment, once a month. It takes all day and there are no rest breaks."

Wu regaled journalists with tales of his unit's tough regimen during a rare glimpse into the world of China's elite fighting force at a base in Jining, Shandong province.

Soldiers must be trained to endure hikes totaling 4,000 km over a period of seven months with full combat packs. Some soldiers had such bad rope burns on their hands that they had to cut their calluses with razor blades — all just part of preparations for a national contest.

Special training sessions can be called at any time, said Tang Changchun, head of the unit's scout team.

Once, soldiers were asked to lie on their stomachs in the middle of the night and asked one after another to stand up and put their hands into a box full of chickens, snakes or mudfish, he said, recalling, "You can hear the screams behind you, but we don't know why until we are put in the same situation."

Besides general training, soldiers can also specialize. Cui Erwei, for example, took part in the nine-month training to become a sniper after joining the Jining regiment in 2009.

For the first five months, he said, he spent 12 hours a day, from 6:30 am to 6:30 pm, on a shooting range, lying on his stomach and looking into the sight of his rifle.

"I could stand up once in the morning and once in the afternoon, but not to rest; I had to do physical exercise, running up and down a hill or running over obstacles, and then lie down again soon after I finished," Cui said.

After once staying in the same position for almost four hours, he recalled, "I couldn't get up. It felt like my bones were stuck together. I had to move my fingers and toes first and stand up slowly."

Still, this is not the worst situation he has been in.

Sometimes he is ordered to use his left hand to hold his rifle in a specific position, an exercise to improve his reaction time.

"My left hand was cramped," he said. "I had to use my right to force it open."

In the evening, Cui has various exercises to make his fingers more flexible and instill patience, including drilling holes in a grain of rice, move glass balls with chopsticks and concentrating on a dot made by a ballpoint pen 4 to 5 meters away on a wall.

He said he can drill as much as six holes in a grain of rice after five months of practice, although he could not do one in the beginning.

This is, however, only the beginning. Three months' training to improve shooting skills and more than 40 days' tactical training followed.

To help them better grip their sniper rifles, some soldiers were asked to grab a baby chicken in their hands without hurting it or letting it escape.

Once or twice a week, they have to run 3 to 5 km and then drop to the ground and shoot immediately. Sometimes, they had to creep forward under cover as slowly as possible so that "enemies" could not see them.

Cui said he once moved no more than 80 meters in two and a half hours.

The shooting exercise was often done with soldiers from other units diverting their attention. Worms were sometimes thrown at them.

Entertainment for the soldiers is limited and they can only enjoy a movie on Tuesday evenings.

The soldiers, however, derive a lot of satisfaction from frequent contests, from which they can monitor their progress in training.

These contests may be held at any time in each company, said Wei Faxiang, a college graduate who joined the regiment in 2007.

Soldiers will also participate in contests every three months in the regiment and contests are held usually once a year in Jinan Military Region, the regiment's home, Wei added.

Soldiers have a very strong sense of honor, Wei said.

Officers at the regiment are not spared and have to prove their worth as much as the men under their command.

All officers of the regiment can handle at least 10 weapons.

"There are special force soldiers but no special officers who can be excluded from training and contests," said Lyu Bixiang, head of the unmanned aerial vehicles team.

"It's peacetime, but nobody knows what will happen tomorrow. Once a war happens, all of us, both soldiers and officers, should be ready and be brave to walk to the front line," Lyu said.

Jining Regiment focuses more on overseas drills

The People's Liberation Army special forces have in recent years, taken part in an increasing number of overseas exercises with the forcesof other nations.

This not only develops contact and trust with foreign countries but helps the special forces upgrade their fighting ability.

Xie Shaosheng, political commissar of the Jining regiment, said that special forces are increasingly engaged in international military drills and have established more lines of communication.

They have been sent to Venezuela, Israel and Turkey to study. Many soldiers have participated in international competitions or joined drills and training exercises conducted overseas, Xie said.

In Xie's regiment alone, more than 150 soldiers have studied abroad or taken part in international competitions, and more than 1,000 have participated in joint drills or training with foreign countries.

"Greater international involvement shows the world our achievement in building a national defense and promotes trust with foreign countries," Xie said.

"It also gives us opportunities to learn from foreign special forces and help improve our training ideas and methods," Xie added.

Jin Song, a company commander of the regiment who studied in Israel and participated in joint training with Indonesian special forces, said he picked up many tips from his counterparts, some of whom had experienced combat.

"We used our right hand to signal commands, but the actual combat experience of Israelis shows that this can be quite dangerous," Jin said.

"You m not have time to grip your pistol," he added.

He also said the safety catch on the weapons was changed to a more accessible position, again to save time when fractions of seconds can be the difference between life and death.

He said they also learned how to quickly and silently enter a building holding terrorists and to achieve their objective while at the same time greatly reducing exposure to fire.

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(Editor:YaoChun、Liang Jun)

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