“I can’t give you a rational explanation.” These are the words of a fresh-faced 23-year-old when I asked why he wanted to join the Royal Marines. The previous day, I had watched this incredibly fit young man go through a multi-stage fitness test, where 3 of his fellow potential recruits dropped out. Sitting in the sun, eating lunch, he talked about his degree in politics and life working in retail. Then, when the order came, he was up on his feet and off to another briefing.
To be a Royal Marines Commando, mental resilience is as important, if not more so, as physical strength. “We can teach them how to run faster, how to do sit ups and push ups, and how to do pull ups the right way, but we can’t teach them to push themselves to their limits and beyond.”
Working at the Chamber of Commerce, I’ve had some great opportunities to meet incredible people and visit places otherwise off-limits to the general public. From young entrepreneurs building their businesses, to the Royal Navy’s base at Faslane, I’ve always thought it important to grasp such opportunities.
So when the invitation to visit the Commandos Training Centre (Royal Marines) dropped into my inbox, I jumped at the chance. The purpose would be to see how Royal Marines are selected and trained, along with learning more about the Corps and its ethos.
Fast forward to 4:40am on a bleak Ayrshire morning, and I’m dragging myself out of bed to get to Glasgow airport for my flight to Bristol. When I arrived, it was 17C, sunny and felt like a different country! I, along with two lecturers from Scotland, were taken to the Officer’s Mess for lunch and a briefing about the two-day visit. The aged Chesterfield chairs gave a hint to the history of both the Marines and the centre at Lympstone; unique in the Armed Forces as Regular, Reserve and Officer Recruits are all trained at the same facility to create a sense of ‘shared hardship’ which is used to build bonds between all ranks.
Along with the 15 other guests, I was taken on a tour of the main gym by our chaperone for the visit, Colour Sergeant Alex Heath, where we watched 23 young men complete the second stage of the Potential Royal Marines Course (PRMC), the final element of the application process. Along with the multi-stage fitness test, the PRMC candidates were required to perform push-ups, sit-ups, and pull-ups, all to Royal marines Standards.
Bearing in mind these guys had completed a 1.5 mile run as a group, then another 1.5 mile run at best effort earlier, this shows how high the standards are. It’s not just about what they do physically though; they need to push themselves mentally to achieve the highest marks they can, and that’s what the instructors are looking for. There is no place to hide on the PRMC.
Hunter Company was our next stop. If a recruit is injured, or needs any other support through training, Hunter Company is there to rehabilitate and reintegrate the recruits back into the process. With the latest equipment and highly-trained staff, Hunter ensures that those who can make it, do.
A big part of this fitness regime is nutrition, and this was ably demonstrated by Colour Sergeant Mike Beatson of the Educational Awareness Team (EAT, appropriately enough). As a cook and a Marine (as well as being an amazing athlete; Mike once came third in a DOUBLE Ironman) Mike uses food and nutrition as a way to engage young people in schools, sports clubs, and youth groups. He discusses any topic with a refreshing honesty, as makes an amazing curry at the same time.
After an excellent meal in the Officer’s Mess, we hit the hay, exhausted just from watching!
The second day began in the bottom field, where the intimidating assault course lurks, waiting to catch out all but the fittest. The PRMC candidates had already been out for an hour when we got there as part of the endurance test. This is used to see how they fair when wet and tired, without knowing how long the exercise will be and what’s coming next. Taking into account what the candidates had gone through the previous day, it really shows that you’ll need more than a couple of circuits a week at the local gym to succeed here.
From here we were taken to the lecture theatre and given a really interesting brief about the Commando Training Wing, detailing the 32-week Recruit Training Syllabus those PRMC candidates will face if they make it through.
After lunch, we’re taken on a coach to Woodbury Common, where the endurance test is continuing. It’s a truly beautiful setting in the heart of Devonshire countryside. It’s reached 20C and the sun is shining, but that’s not really much of a comfort when you’re going through the sheep dip:
12 of the 25 candidates have made it through, quite an attrition rate. I was so impressed with the commitment and attitude of the candidates; no room for egos or mobile phones here.
Upon returning to CTCRM, we are invited to meet the World-famous Royal Marines Band. A unique way to make a living as a musician, but one that rewards with huge opportunities and great support. Those lucky enough to be selected are enrolled on a BMus degree course.
Our final stop was a briefing by Ged Herd, the Deputy Royal Marines Civilian Accreditation Advisor. An ex-Marine himself, Ged helps to oversee qualifications the Marines can gain whilst in the Corps. This allows for an easier transition into the civilian workforce if the Marines choose to leave. This is a vital element to resettlement after serving, and equips the servicemen with qualifications that are relevant and accepted in civilian life.
From there, it was back to the Officer’s Mess to collect our bags and head off to the airport for the flight home. The visit left me with a sense of the belonging and values that are the foundations of the Royal Marines. While I will never wear the coveted Green Beret, I can follow the Commando Values of excellence, integrity, self-discipline, and humility, and the Commando Spirit of courage, determination, unselfishness, and cheerfulness. Whether you chose to become a Royal Marine or not, these are the values that we can all adopt and be better people.
A huge ‘Thank You’ to CSgt Heath, WO2 Smith who oversaw the PMRC, CSgt Mike Beaton, Captain Hurst of the Commando Training Wing, CSgt Horne of the Royal Marines Band Service, Ged Herd, and finally LtCol Green OBE, the Corps Colonel responsible for overseeing the recruitment of Royal Marines officers and Marines.
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