They were shown different first aid skills, other than the normal ones, usually taught to the ‘ordinary’ soldier. Normal stuff was re-covered, the treating of fractures, burns, sprains and hypothermia. Treatment of snake bites, poison and infection were an addition to these, and they were shown how to adapt items from their natural surroundings, to aid in the extraction of either themselves or a comrade.
The first lesson they received was from a member of 22 Special Air Service, who simply introduced himself as Scrapper. He was powerfully built guy, with hair protruding from his neck. His bright, blond hair and bushy eyebrows gave him the look of a Viking warrior. His voice was gruff, deep and revealed him to be from Yorkshire. Richard watched every move, in awe, as he eased through the lesson on how to build a shelter. He referred them to natural features, such a cave or fallen down tree, which were natural shelters. Then, he concentrated on, and demonstrated, the construction known as an ‘A’ frame. Also known as a double lean to, this comprised using branches or debris from the local area, in conjunction with a ‘tarp’ or poncho. Scrapper quickly lashed together a number of pieces of wood and covered them with a poncho, providing shelter from the elements. The whole process had only taken him fifteen minutes, after which he asked if the students had any questions. They were then sent off, to forage for materials and to build their own.
The time limit for the exercise was one hour and, once the time had elapsed, he commanded everyone to stop. He then proceeded to lead the course round, inspecting each shelter, in turn. He asked the students to pass comments on each one, then he gave his opinion on how each student had performed.
Everything was quite laid back, with everyone on first name terms. Richard had been told by his American Ranger roommate that was how most Special Forces operated. The first lesson had been an enjoyable one. They were then passed on to a member of the GSG9, Germany’s equivalent of the SAS.
He took them through the art of fire lighting, which significantly increased the ability to survive physically and mentally. Starting a fire without lighter or matches, by using natural flint and steel with tinder.
Fire is presented as a tool meeting many survival needs. The heat provided by a fire warms the body, dries wet clothes, disinfects water, and cooks food. Not to be overlooked is the psychological boost and the sense of safety and protection it gives. In the wild, fire can provide a sensation of home, a focal point, in addition to being an essential energy source. Fire may deter wild animals from interfering with a survivor, however wild animals may be attracted to the light and heat of a fire. (Wikipedia)
The GSG9 man, who was called Frank, showed them a couple of techniques, from using a fire stick on the use of friction to create an ember to the use of a flint and tinder. As with the previous lesson, he made it look so much easier than it was, his expertise achieved through years of practice. Again, the students were instructed to build their own fires. Some, including Richard, failed miserably. He made a mental note this was one skill he would need to practise. The course itself was not a pass or fail course, the students were there to learn how to survive. In a real situation, there would not be anyone marking them on their efforts.
For the remainder of the week, they learned how to gather water. The human body could only last, on average, three to five days, without the intake of water. The need for water increases, the more the body is exerted. Also, conditions like heat and perspiration had to be factored in.
They were shown how to recognise and gather natural food. From things such as berries, fungi, edible plants and nuts to wild animals. They were given a demonstration on how to skin a rabbit. They were shown how to lay the rabbit on a heavy chopping board or block of wood and, with a meat cleaver or old knife and hammer, chop off the feet just above the knees; cut off the tail and, using the same tools and technique, remove the head. Then, they had to lift the fur at the belly and make a horizontal incision, pulling the skin away from the rabbit; insert the knife into the horizontal cut, taking care not to pierce the stomach. Next, holding the knife upside down, so the sharp edge faces upwards, slowly cut the skin, from the belly up to the neck, gradually pulling the skin away from the flesh, which, if fresh, should come away easily.
‘Work your way around the body to begin with and then upward, to the front legs. The legs must be popped out, through the skin. The best way to do this, is to pull out the skin around the leg and push on the stump of the leg from the other side – a bit like taking off a jacket,’ the instructor explained, as he carried out each part of the process.
‘The final stage is to grip the shoulders of the rabbit and pull the skin down, over the back legs, again, like removing an item of clothing.’ He completed the skinning of the rabbit and looked up at the grinning faces of the troops.
They were expecting to be given a rabbit each and have to do the same exercise. The instructors had a little surprise in store. They took the men to a pen, which contained three chickens and nominated three students to climb in the pen. They each had to catch a chicken and, once they had done so, they were to cut off the heads with axes supplied by the training staff.
Richard and the students who had not been chosen doubled up in laughter, watching the three madmen chasing the chickens, round the pen. It was like a comedy show, although the ending would not be funny at all. As soon as the prey had been captured, the panting soldiers were asked to dispatch them, one at a time. The first two completed the task without a problem. However, the third did not manage to make a clean cut and the bird escaped from his grasp, running around with blood pumping from a partially severed neck. It had been a bloody enjoyable lesson and one that Richard would remember for a long time.
The second week was spent learning interrogation techniques and the methods of how to resist them, without giving away any vital information. This was an important part of the course, as many of the troops might someday be captured, during the course of their careers.
They were taught how to be ‘the grey man’, not to stand out and be submissive, rather than aggressive. They should always be aware of their surroundings, always thinking of ways to escape, if possible. These lessons were put into practice on the final exercise, which was an escape and evasion phase. They were dropped off, individually, at various points and told to make their way to a final location. They were to gather information on the way, just as Richard had done on his leadership cadre. The difference this time, was that when they were captured, they would be subject to an introduction into interrogation. Every one of them was caught, at different times, and the directing staff put them through the process, including sleep deprivation, stress positions, lack of food, culminating in ‘tactical questioning’. For his part, Richard was captured after two days and the 24 hours he had to endure was a mere taste of what would happen for real.