It was a few weeks since my run in with the fat kid and here I was, Lympstone, base of operations for the Royal Marines. These were the best of the best. The Royal Marine commandos were the pinnacle of human combat proficiency, the elite of modern warfare worldwide. Something to aim for then. I'd arrived here two days ago on the direct Lympstone commando train line. I'd had a chat with a few of the serving marines and one or two other recruits on the way down. The veterans were sardonic and full of dry humour, the recruits ranging from bags of nerves to exuberant overconfidence. The veterans told me that those traits would be stamped out of them in no time if they wanted to stay at Lympstone for long. Upon arrival we'd all been through the interview process and a short paper test. Some things never change. Wouldn't be much different from applying to uni. These basic hurdles were designed to weed out the weaker candidates straight off. Quitters would crack under the grilling given by the training director. Those simply without basic mental capabilities would fail the paper test. Those of us who passed that section then underwent a medical examination to assess physical health and potential. That was it for the first day. The second was tougher. We were put through a five k run with a time limit of just above twenty minutes. It was a protracted process which cut the numbers of recruits yet again. I'd stayed in for the next day. Now the real test began.
An NCO barked us awake at dark O'clock. I dressed double time in the combats and boots I'd been given and formed up with the rest of the guys outside as the sun winked its way over the horizon. The sky washed red and my breath frosted the cool October air while the officer led us to the assault course. The task was simple. Run the course and do it fast. We'd start one after another as he called us to go. I tapped the grass into the mud lightly with my boot as I waited for my turn.
"Lewis, you're up! Look sharp. Go, go, go!"
My lungs filled with the cool scent of salt and sea as I took off running down the first stretch. Breathe steady, stay focussed. I scrambled up a slope of wooden beams and jumped across the stream that ran beneath it. Upright posture, long strides. "Move it Lewis!" Rope wall, followed by freehang, up and over. The coarse fibres burned my palms as I shimmied along suspended a good two metres off the ground. "Drop down, head for the next obstacle!" I chased the other recruit in front of me towards a series of over, under beams. Crawl on elbows and knees, maintain momentum when going over the high ones, repeat as necessary. "Keep running! Don't slow down!" Crawl netting, just don't get stuck, keep moving. I felt the mud seep through the seams in my clothing as I commando crawled through the squelching earth. "Keep it up, you're not done yet!" Another web of netting, this time hanging over a murky pool. I leapt forwards across the water and gripped the ropes tight as I swung beneath them. My arms burned as I clambered up and rolled down back onto the track. "Get over the wall! Move Lewis, move!" A vertical wall stood directly in front of me. No hand holds, no ropes, just a block of wood over which I couldn't see. I ran straight at it and sprinted up its surface. My momentum took me forward but pushed me back so I fell sprawling on the floor at the foot of the wall. "Get over it Lewis! Get over it!" I ran at it again. Two steps up, the third step just pushed me off and I fell again, flat on the floor with my ambitions inching away from me. "You gotta climb that wall Lewis, don't be a quitter!" I got up and wiped the sweat out of my eyes. One last run. Throw your body as your legs force you off. I sprinted forwards again. Lift off. My first step hit the wall and drove me up. Second step, the rubber of my boot just gripping the wooden slats. Third step, I felt the force of the wall repulsing me, I felt myself falling, I felt my legs propel me backwards, away from the wall away from the edge I was so near to scaling. I twisted my body, jerking forwards, flailing my arms in desperation. My finger tips caught. Wood cut into them as I gripped with all my might, a shock rocked my body as I crashed back into wall, but still hanging. Thrusting my hips out I swung myself up on top of the wall and beheld a zipline over a considerable drop into a sizeable body of water. "Zipline down Lewis, you're almost done!" The hanging bar was a good distance from the edge of the wall. I just threw myself at it. My leap of faith paid off. I seized the bar with two hands as I arced through the air, and the zipwire bore me down to the finish where an officer was waiting for me.
"Under five minutes Lewis. That's a decent pass. Think you can run it faster than that though. Run back around and do the course again. Beat four minutes this time... If you can."
I smiled shortly to myself as I sucked in oxygen to feed my burning muscles. I turned around and followed the dirt track back up to the start of the assault course at a run.
* * *
Three days, four and a half hours of grueling gym circuits, two paper tests, five assault course attempts and a three mile run later, I assembled with the other recruits who'd passed in front of the lieutenant colonel in command of our training wing.
"Well done recruits. You've succeeded thus far. We can now officially accept you into training for the Royal Marines Commandos." His grizzled face showed no emotion as he spoke, his uniform impeccable. Clean shaven, his jawline looked like it was carved from a cliff-side. He took a moment to have a few words with the junior officers then saluted us, straightened his beret and walked off. We stayed at attention in salute until our NCOs gave to order to stand easy. We were dismissed to our barracks summarily and we dispersed in ones and twos. I smiled and relaxed as I crashed on my bunk in the accommodation. I was in. Thirty two weeks of basic training, then another specialisation course. All in all, a year of training before I became combat effective. My final time on the course had been three minutes thirty nine seconds. Not bad for a newbie.