The Endless Pursuit of Awesomeness.

Paramilitary Training

“Welcome to the suck” They say.

Funny, I’ve always called it “Being in the Shit.” It’s a confused desire and blurred memory of places most wouldn’t want to be. It’s a world filled with acronyms and jargon, and lots of yelling. It could be sleeping at the edge of a forest in a hurricane, or shoving plastic food, or Meals Ready to Eat down your throat. It’s criminal morning reveille, hands- like rigid talons, stained with blood, ash and mud. This is endless physical training that turns joints into rust and muscle into hardened blunt weapons.

I’ve spent plenty of my time training. This is not training like an athlete. The grounds do not have walls or roofs. Paramilitary training is built off of failure. Its existence is based on the mistakes of the alumni before us. Systematic, repetitive, draining and soul sucking paramilitary training creates a machine out of the human body. Ten years in the Canadian Infantry, a year of NFPA firefighter college, smokejumper and firecrew leader school followed by several weeks of rope and avalanche instruction, I feel ready to perhaps explain what goes on in paramilitary training.

You must voluntarily leave your life behind. – something perhaps I wish I knew before I commited. Like a cult, you leave your girlfriend, your favourite shoes, freedom, and sometimes even daylight, for either a crisp, new car smelling outfit, or a dull one smelling of the last group’s dropout. It’s common to be labelled as an ostracized rookie, an awkward shape that has to earn the right to socialize. Quickly, you learn to never be last, but most definitely, never be first either.

The most prominent difference in a veteran and a rookie is the look in their eyes. Fresh off the boat you’ve got a wide, scared eyes dart from authority and overwhelmed bewilderment. A seasoned trooper never slips in his determined nature. There is a determined focus and keen atonement to surroundings. They are switched on in their sleep.

“maggit, go find me the hose stretcher” - a fun ploy to watch the new kid get lost in inventory, just like tying his shoelaces together. I spent hours looking for hose fittings, or some other object, like “propwash” that doesn’t exist.

First in training, what must appear is your inherent enemy, be it an insurgent in a window, the moments before a backdraft, an avalanche, or a crossover in the forecast. Training ideally doesn’t have any enemy, so it must be created. Enter your instructor. This person is a warrant officer, A Jump Spotter, or Fireground Ops Professor - hand picked because they brought experience home. His or her job is to symbolize that force. They make names for you that could stick with you for life, they make you stumble in speech and pace, laughing as you go, they threaten you with exertion, and re-inform you of how easy it is to go home. But they’ll hand you a rifle and brace you against the respect it demands.

This training sends a recruit into the field with a measured level of responsibility.  Consequences of action and inaction have immediate and dire consequences. No medic, soldier, or trooper wants to face a hopeless patient, or an onslaught of insurgents, or a team of subordinates with an “I don’t know” answer.

Training is a type of shock doctrine that wipes you clean of who you are and what you value. Everyone at one point has a tipping point, and they cry. Everyone. It’s tough to lose yourself, to morph into a machine or clean slate, but you also lose the things that hold you back. The little voice measuring the distance back is silenced. And once you are this vast, empty, spongy carcass, you are their proverbial oyster. Your mind is a blank canvass or a rebooted computer eager for code. You are a canvass to paint tactics and operational flowcharts, and malfunction reactions into the deep crevices of your subconscious, and it truly is an art.

I wouldn’t have it any other way. How else do you remove doubt from a rookie lined up to do something immeasurably dangerous? How do you make him trust his training, equipment, and peers? That’s how it must be, because if you can’t handle the stress of training, then that one way lonely bus ride home is best served now, and not in the field. The physical training is scenario-based to stir your conscience more than ripping your muscles and blistering your feet. In parattack, their P-T sessions are hourly secretive missions that have been nicknamed things like “the mind-fuck run.” They must sit down and plan workouts to remove as much hope as possible, and redefine what you think of as “all you’ve got”

The point is that you’re training for a job that puts not just your life at risk, but the lives of your team, trainer included. My first time sitting in a wooden box shaped like a toy airplane for my first exit drill, I was shocked by how much focus and drive were in the eyes of my instructors as they demonstrated the procedure that I initially thought was so trivial. Because the job’s not about you. If you exit an aircraft too soon or all fucked up, you could end a twisted spiral plummeting just 1500 feet, to the earth (about 20 seconds), or throw yourself miles from the dropzone -all of which only begins with the loss of you. So instead of stopping a rank 4 fire from overthrowing a town, your fellow firefighters much save you. Which is why if one person can’t make their suit-up time, all of your fellow rookies do pushups until you can.

What they’re looking for isn’t the strongest, brightest, stellar applicant. What they care about is the point at which you fail, and they will find it. Their job is to provide multiple opportunities. They want to see you sweat buckets, they want to see how many burning tendons you can activate at once. And I can tell you that the only time a recruit has reached 101%, balls to the wall, point of no return effort, is when an uninspired roar or growl screams from their dry, blood-tasting throat as their bodies refuse to stop. A point where your mind is convinced that further effort damages the body, but stopping now results in worse. They double their strength on an empty tank.

Your new team has no intention of cutting you from their program, they want to see if you will drop yourself out, and they will never trust you until they’ve appreciated where you fail. It makes for a whole new ball game when you realize that it is truly up to you. From the moment you enrolled to your graduation day, you decide whether or not you will survive, because they will make you eat your own words, the ones you sold yourself with during the interview.

On examination day, it’s obvious you aren’t putting pen to paper. Calculations are internal. This exam is by no means a scholarly effort. But consider this: in jobs like this, it all comes down to the seconds. It takes seconds to jam a rifle, find yourself thumping off the fuselage of an airplane, or a collapse in the weather that makes a  fire run faster than you can. The task to fix it can never be hesitant. I’ve made the call to initiate air tankers, or cleared a jammed magazine – well before I knew my hands had conducted the task. The problems are real and are guaranteed to happen, you need to be that kind of person that doesn’t falter, but remain calm in shit-myself situations, and remedy the task with staggering efficiency.

And after all the bruises, blisters, eye-crusted mornings, and throbbing muscles, what are you left with? The keenest, most badass and capable motherfuckers in the service. You realize that you went through all that horrid bullshit because the veterans before you did, and they can only trust you and put their lives in your hands if you survived it. Camaraderie grows as you and your team hit the dirt together and bonds through tough failure and valiant success, a friendship that builds on incidence. You feel so vastly included, and honored to wear the same uniform.

Your personality can grow back, you can reunite yourself with society, and bring with you a timeless novel of stories that really can only be understood by those that were there.

Training is a constant preparation to do things like this:


3 Responses

  1. fritt

    yo dude never knew you had this site….pretty cool stuff man. liked your para training, got me pretty stoked for the new season coming up. hope to see you around this year.
    you take some wicked pic’s dude… keep on keeping on.

    March 7, 2011 at 16:42

  2. Dahmer

    Hey Fritt! thanks dude! yea I made the transfer to FSJ, See you in may man!

    March 11, 2011 at 17:07

  3. tmartin

    awesome blog man! I’m seriously considering applying for parattack – training sounds like hell on earth but is it worth it?

    October 11, 2011 at 21:16

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