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Spetsnaz Selection And Training Page 2

The Inside Story Of The Soviet Special Forces

Spetsnaz Selection And Training Page 2

Every soldier taken into a training battalion is given a nickname, almost invariably sarcastic. He might be known as The Count, The Duke, Caesar, Alexander of Macedon, Louis XI, Ambassador, Minister of Foreign Affairs, or any variation on the theme. He is treated with exaggerated respect, not given orders, but asked for his opinion:

  • 'Would Your Excellency be of a mind to clean the toilet with his toothbrush?'
  • 'Illustrious Prince, would you care to throw up in public what you ate at lunch?'

In spetsnaz units men are fed much better than in any other units of the armed forces, but the workload is so great that the men are permanently hungry, even if they do not suffer the unofficial but very common punishment of being forced to empty their stomachs:

'You're on the heavy side, Count, after your lunch! Would you care to stick two fingers down your throat? That'll make things easier!'

The more humiliating the forms of punishment a sergeant thinks up for the men under him, and the more violently he attacks their dignity, the better. The task of the training battalions is to crush and completely destroy the individual, however strong a character he may have possessed, and to fashion out of that person a type to fit the standards of spetsnaz, a type who will be filled with an explosive charge of hatred and spite and a craving for revenge.

The main difficulty in carrying out this act of human engineering is to turn the fury of the young soldier in the right direction. He has to have been reduced to the lowest limits of his dignity and then, at precisely the point when he can take no more, he can be given his sergeant's stripes and sent off to serve in a regular unit. There he can begin to work off his fury on his own subordinates, or better still on the enemies of Communism.

The training units of spetsnaz are a place where they tease a recruit like a dog, working him into a rage and then letting him off the leash. It is not surprising that fights inside spetsnaz are a common occurrence. Everyone, especially those who have served in a spetsnaz training unit, bears within himself a colossal charge of malice, just as a thunder cloud bears its charge of electricity. It is not surprising that for a spetsnaz private, or even more so for a sergeant, war is just a beautiful dream, the time when he is at last allowed to release his full charge of malice.

Apart from the unending succession of humiliations, insults and punishments handed out by the commanders, the man serving in a spetsnaz training unit has continually to wage a no less bitter battle against his own comrades who are in identical circumstances to his own.

In the first place there is a silent competition for pride of place, for the leadership in each group of people. In spetsnaz, as we have seen, this struggle has assumed open and very dramatic forms. Apart from this natural battle for first place there exists an even more serious incentive. It derives from the fact that for every sergeant's place in a spetsnaz training battalion there are three candidates being trained at the same time. Only the very best will be made sergeant at the end of five months. On passing out some are given the rank of junior sergeant, while others are not given any rank at all and remain as privates in the ranks. It is a bitter tragedy for a man to go through all the ordeals of a spetsnaz training battalion and not to receive any rank but to return to his unit as a private at the end of it.

The decision whether to promote a man to sergeant after he has been through the training course is made by a commission of GRU officers or the Intelligence Directorate of the military district in whose territory the particular battalion is stationed. The decision is made on the basis of the result of examinations conducted in the presence of the commission, on the main subjects studied: political training; the tactics of spetsnaz (including knowledge of the probable enemy and the main targets that spetsnaz operates); weapons training (knowledge of spetsnaz armament, firing from various kinds of weapons including foreign weapons, and the use of explosives); parachute training; physical training; and weapons of mass destruction and defence against them.

The commission does not distinguish between the soldiers according to where they have come from, but only according to their degree of readiness to carry out missions. Consequently, when the men who have passed out are returned to their units there may arise a lack of balance among them. For example, a spetsnaz company that sends nine privates to a training battalion in the hope of receiving three sergeants back after five months, could receive one sergeant, one junior sergeant and seven privates, or five sergeants, three junior sergeants and one private. This system has been introduced quite deliberately. The officer commanding a regular company, with nine trained men to choose from, puts only the very best in charge of his sections. He can put anybody he pleases into the vacancies without reference to his rank. Privates who have been through the training battalion can be appointed commanders of sections. Sergeants and junior sergeants for whom there are not enough posts as commanders will carry out the work of privates despite their sergeant's rank.

The spetsnaz company commander may also have, apart from the freshly trained men, sergeants and privates who completed their training earlier but were not appointed to positions as commanders. Consequently the company commander can entrust the work of commanding sections to any of them, while all the new arrivals from the training battalion can be used as privates.

The private or junior sergeant who is appointed to command a section has to struggle to show his superiors that he really is worthy of that trust and that he really is the best. If he succeeds in doing so he will in due course be given the appropriate rank. If he is unworthy he will be removed. There are always candidates for his job.

This system has two objectives: the first is to have within the spetsnaz regular units a large reserve of commanders at the very lowest level. During a war spetsnaz will suffer tremendous losses. In every section there are always a minimum of two fully trained men capable of taking command at any moment; the second is to generate a continual battle between sergeants for the right to be a commander. Every commander of a section or deputy commander of a platoon can be removed at any time and replaced by someone more worthy of the job.

The removal of a sergeant from a position of command is carried out on the authority of the company commander (if it is a separate spetsnaz company) or on the authority of the battalion commander or regiment.

When he is removed the former commander is reduced to the status of a private soldier. He may retain his rank, or his rank may be reduced, or he may lose the rank of sergeant altogether.   continued next page...

[This is an excerpt from "The Inside Story Of The Soviet Special Forces" by By Viktor Suvorov]

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