10 things no one tells you before you join the Royal Marines

Mark Time, author of ‘Going Commando’and himself a former Royal Marines Commando, shares ten entertaining facts about life in this most elite of institutions.

‘Basic training’ is not basic

32 weeks basic training may seem a long time. When you are undertaking it, it feels even longer. However, it is necessary to turn a civilian into a Royal Marines Commando. Many people ask how hard it actually is. The simplest analogy is “think of the hardest thing you could ever do – then double it”.

Being camouflaged isn’t sexy

While the stereotypical film shot sees the hero blend seamlessly into the background, it doesn’t show the discomfort of sweating like a cheap beef salad while lying awkwardly in spiky gorse bushes, with twigs, leaves and broken branches scraping and scoring your skin, leaving you feeling like you have been mistreated by a sexually frustrated Laburnum.

You become bilingual

Royal Marines talk “Jackspeak” – a Naval lingo where toilets are “heads”, and steak-and-kidney puddings “babies heads”. Conversely, actual heads become “grids”, “nappers” or “fat ones”. Confounded family members wonder why you are suddenly unable to speak “normally”. Even today, I still struggle to construct a sentence without using the word “hoofing”, “chad”, or “essence”.

Wanderlust is in your job description

You will visit places you have not yet heard of, but this is no holiday. You will not be deceived by tourism’s mendacious attractions but instead will have your senses sledgehammered by brutal, unfiltered surroundings. You will see such poverty and suffering that you will return home to feel exasperated by the complaints of those who live within the slothful ignorance of their cosseted existence.

Like sleep? You’ll learn to love it

When on operations, discard the concept of time. You are either working or not. When you work, your body is put through such stress and trauma that once you have down time, once administration is complete, sleep becomes your best friend. Take it while you can. You never know when you will next get the chance.

Like food? Read my last

Speed eating becomes a survival instinct; indigestion indicates fulfilling this most important of tasks. When the fatigued body requires refuelling, noxious foodstuffs become epicurean delights. Leaving food is as taboo as having a dirty weapon. Don’t do it.

You will become an aficionado of fancy dress

A Royal Marine’s locker is the chipboard gateway to his soul. It smells of aftershave, shaving foam and toothpaste. As sure it will contain a green beret, it will also be home to Lycra dresses, tutus, togas, superhero capes, and in my case a pantomime camel costume. “Silly rig” – fancy dress – is as much engrained into corps culture as the 28th October anniversary date.

You WILL lose at Spoof

Spoof is the unofficial, yet mandatory drinking game of the Royal Marines. To succeed, you need the numeracy of Einstein combined with a champion winning poker face. A composite of chance, bluff, and bravado, to lose will mean a forfeit that ranges from a round of drinks to receiving a “chad” tattoo.

An expert on the piste? Norway will bring you down to earth – literally

Forget the pressed, manicured slopes of ski resorts. Skiing in Norway, where natural unevenness caused by -40°C winds ensures that when carrying 60kg on your back you fall as if been shot. Weight drives your head further into the snow, frustrated abuse muffled by frozen grass. Baby ostrich legs attempt to stand while skis are eager to continue without you. Tentatively, you set off again, knowing that the experience will be repeated as soon as you hit anything that could be dismissed as “a bump”.

You will wear more heads than Wurzel Gummidge

Depending on government expectation, in one instance you and your brothers in arms become bastions of decency, regaled in dress uniforms to the glee of London tourists; the next you will be carrying out man’s most violent acts before metamorphosing into social workers with a handkerchief and weapon while on humanitarian missions. Learn to embrace diversity.

United Kingdom Special Forces

The United Kingdom Special Forces (UKSF) is a Ministry of Defence directorate that provides a joint special operations task force headquarters. The UKSF is commanded by the Director Special Forces. The directorate commands 22 Special Air Service Regiment, the Special Boat Service, the Special Reconnaissance Regiment, the Special Forces Support Group, 18 Signal Regiment and the Joint Special Forces Aviation Wing.

The UKSF was formed in 1987 to draw together the Army’s Special Air Service and the Naval Service’s Special Boat Squadron, which was renamed the Special Boat Service during the formation, into a unified command, based around the former Director SAS, who was given the additional title of Director Special Forces. The directorate has been expanded by the creation of the Joint Special Forces Aviation Wing, the Special Reconnaissance Regiment, 18 Signal Regiment and the Special Forces Support Group.

The Royal Marines

The Corps of Royal Marines (RM) is the amphibious light infantry and one of the five fighting arms or branches of the Royal Navy. The Royal Marines were formed in 1755 as the Royal Navy’s infantry troops. However, the marines can trace their origins back to the formation of the English Army’s “Duke of York and Albany’s maritime regiment of Foot” at the grounds of the Honourable Artillery Company on 28 October 1664.

As a highly specialised and adaptable light infantry force, the Royal Marines are trained for rapid deployment worldwide and capable of dealing with a wide range of threats. The Royal Marines are organised into a light infantry brigade (3 Commando Brigade) and a number of separate units, including 1 Assault Group Royal Marines, 43 Commando Royal Marines formerly Fleet Protection Group Royal Marines (previously the Comacchio Group), and a company strength commitment to the Special Forces Support Group. The Corps operates in all environments and climates, though particular expertise and training is spent on amphibious warfare, arctic warfare, mountain warfare, expeditionary warfare, and its commitment to the UK’s Rapid Reaction Force.

U.S. Pararescue

Air Force Pararescue is the only United States Department of Defense elite combat force specifically organized, trained, equipped, and postured to conduct full spectrum personnel recovery to include both conventional and unconventional combat rescue operations. These Battlefield Airmen are the most highly trained and versatile personnel recovery specialists in the world. Pararescue is the nation’s force of choice to execute the most perilous, demanding, and extreme rescue missions anytime, anywhere across the globe.

The Parachute Regiment

The Parachute Regiment is the airborne infantry regiment of the British Army. The 1st Battalion is permanently under the command of the Director Special Forces in the Special Forces Support Group (SFSG). The other battalions are the parachute infantry component of the British Army’s rapid response formation, 16 Air Assault Brigade.

Paratroopers are trained to conduct a range of missions, from prevention and pre-emption tasks, to complex, high intensity war fighting. Watchwords are professionalism, resilience, discipline, versatility, courage and self-reliance.