The military slogan ‘Train Hard, Fight Easy’ is more than just rhetoric – as the latest deaths show

As long as men and women are put through the forge in preparation for war, the drive towards realistic training will exact a toll in blood

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Military training holds a distinct place in modern folklore and Special Forces training even more so. The fundamental goal of training is to take a normal fellow and turn him (or, indeed, her) into a particular kind of end product.

The aim is to prepare a given subject, through a sophisticated (though superficially brutal) process of social engineering, to give his all in the face of adversity, discomfort and the enemy. He or she will be re-bored that he might run and fight and operate far beyond the expected limits of normal society or until he can run no more - whichever comes first and in any environment.

The Brecon Beacons, a place where most service-people will spend at least some time, is a rough gig for ramblers, let alone potential SAS recruits. In winter, it has a tendency to throw everything it has at you. In summer its barren face, devoid of any kind of shade, carries an altogether different set of stresses.

A man navigating and running hard under the burden of a rifle and bergen (heavy backpack) while absolutely committed to passing a given course and carrying limited water might be expected to not drink enough. But the environment itself, and the requirements one’s own body, are less forgiving masters.

The deaths of two soldiers, and the hospitalization of another, while apparently engaged in the selection course for Special Forces reserves in the rugged Brecon Beacons, brings home an oft-obscured reality. The aged maxim ‘Train Hard, Fight Easy’ is more than a rhetoric, and in fact reflects the arduousness inherent to preparing soldiers for war.

There can be no doubt that DS (Directing Staff) - the trainers who organize and monitor these kinds of courses - aim for the highest standards of safety. No service-person wants a death on their conscience in war let alone on a training exercise, and they certainly would aim to avoid the spectre of liability with its potential to stunt careers.

The reality is that as long as men and women are put through the forge in preparation for war, the most extreme and contrived of human activities, the drive towards realistic training will exact a toll in blood.

Even the endless list of hero books on our shelves tend not to scrimp on incidents of this type. The military memoirs of Colonel Tim Collins of Iraq fame, former Royal Marine Duncan Falconer and the soldier still publicly known as Andy McNab all highlight the dangers of the harsh preparation and selection for combat - be it in live-firing training incidents, heat injury (as seems to have been the case in Wales this week), or accidental falls during challenging training on a mountainside.

Deaths in training are no new thing, and as long as we pursue conflict and maintain armies for that end, this less publicised kind of tragedy will continue in the name of wars far away from these shores.

 

Joe Glenton is author of 'Soldier Box', published by Verso Books

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