Inside Taiwan’s Brutal Navy Frogman Bootcamp | world news

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By Ann Wang and Ben Blanchard

ZUOYING, Taiwan (Reuters) – A freezing wind blows across the Taiwan Strait as a small group of Taiwanese marines stand shivering on a remote pier in the early hours of the morning, their shorts and thin jackets soaked through after a day spent mostly in the sea .

“Are you a Sleeping Beauty? Are you skipping class?” a trainer shouts at the nervous men, who have barely slept in days, as they do sit-ups and other exercises on the rough concrete floor, some fainting from fatigue.

Jets of cold water from a hose bring them back to their senses.

Entry into the Taiwanese Navy’s elite Amphibious Patrol and Reconnaissance Unit or ARP, its answer to US Navy SEALs or Britain’s Special Boat Service, is not for the faint of heart.

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(Open https://reut.rs/3fjJ2d7 to see a set of photos on recruitment for Taiwan’s elite navy unit)

In the event of a war with China, which claims the democratic island as its own and has stepped up its military and political pressure against Taiwan, the ARP’s frogmen could find themselves spirited across the strait in small boats under the cover of night to scout enemy positions and call in attacks.

Of the group of 31 people who started the 10-week course, only 15 completed, with the final week at the sprawling naval base of Zuoying in southern Taiwan being the final test, which Reuters had rare access to as witness.

‘I’m not afraid of death,’ said Fu Yu, 30, after completing the ‘Sky Road’, an ultimate obstacle course consisting of a stretch of boulders about 100 meters long. on which they must climb on their stomachs and do tasks like push-ups to the satisfaction of their coaches.

“It’s a soldier’s responsibility, what we have to do,” added Fu, who had previously tried unsuccessfully to take the course.

For six days and five nights, volunteers to enter the ARP must endure everything from long walks to hours spent in water, with the constant shouting of their instructors.

They spend much of their time in the sea or in pools, learning to hold their breath for long periods of time, swimming in full combat gear, and infiltrating beaches from the sea.

Every six hours they have a one hour break. During this time, they should eat – crush garlic bulbs to boost their immune system – seek medical attention, go to the toilet and sleep.

They can only end up with five minutes of sleep, huddled together on the floor under bright green blankets, awakened by shrill whistles.

The goal is to give soldiers an iron will to carry out their mission, no matter how difficult, and to create unwavering loyalty to their comrades and the army.

The candidates are all volunteers, driven to join the special forces by a mixture 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, only having 15 minutes to go to the bathroom, have a sip of water, before moving on to the next section,” he explained.

“The first days are exhausting, then you get used to it. You have to rely on your will and determination.”

After crossing the “Road to Heaven” finish line, and being congratulated by Marine Corps Commander Wang Jui-lin, the stress of the past week is too much for some of the Marines, who burst into tears in the arms of proud family members invited to see them graduate.

Trainers, all graduating from the same course, say the intent of Hell Week is not cruelty but to simulate the hardships of war, like extreme sleep deprivation, to see who has the stamina and the courage to do so.

“Of course, we absolutely won’t force anyone, everyone is here voluntarily. That’s why we are so tough on them and eliminate them so strictly,” said coach Chen Shou-lih, 26. only because you wanted to come.”

(Reporting by Ann Wang and Ben Blanchard; Editing by Raissa Kasolowsky)

Copyright 2022 Thomson Reuters.

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