Tasked with protecting and reclaiming Vietnam’s islands in the event of foreign invasion, Vietnam’s marines train in extreme conditions, pushing themselves far beyond their limit.
The Vietnamese marine force is one of the country’s most elite military units, mastering both sea and land combat in preparation for the defense of Vietnam’s maritime sovereignty.
“A marine is responsible for mastering many skills. The competent operation of a wide range of weapons and equipment, swimming in force 6 winds, understanding weather conditions at sea, and developing top-tier stamina are just a few of our requirements,” said Lieutenant Colonel Duong Chi Nguyen, political commissar of Vietnam’s marine battalion 863.
‘Cool’ and ‘dope’
Returning from nearly 20 days of training after traveling over 60 kilometers while carrying almost 40 kilograms of weapons and ammunition, Sergeant Nguyen Van Bich, 24, still managed to keep a broad smile on his face while talking about his life as a marine.
“It’s definitely strenuous, but there’s a feeling of great pride and confidence that follows, like you’ve just conquered the impossible,” Bich said happily.
After carrying marine-exclusive riffles, bulletproof vests, combat helmets, and other military equipment for the first time, the Gen-Y soldier described the marine look as “cool” and “dope.”
Bich earned a bachelor’s degree from the Ho Chi Minh City University of Technology (HUTECH), but decided to follow his dream of becoming a soldier, enlisting himself in the Vietnamese army upon graduation.
After two months of rookie training, Bich volunteered for the army’s marine force, where he received additional six-month intensive training before being officially sworn into the unit.
Where strength is measured by willpower
The faint hearted have no place in Vietnam’s marine force. Soldiers are put on strict training schedules that focus on pushing the limits of human endurance.
Three kilometers is the minimum distance rookies are expected to be able to swim non-stop, though many soldiers start from zero as they never learnt to swim before joining the army.
Weak swimmers, such as Sergeant Huynh Mai Bao Duong, 25, take extra swimming sessions with his senior to catch up with the rest.
“I practice day and night, even during breaks and Sundays, for I don’t want to be the only one holding the whole team back,” Duong said.
The sergeant said that swimming in formation at sea is extremely difficult but necessary to maintain tactical spacing from other soldiers while battling big waves and strong winds.
The Vietnamese marines’ training grounds are the sea and the vast sand dunes under the scorching sun.
“In this hot weather, merely sitting under the sun on the sand dunes for a day is beyond endurance,” Lieutenant Colonel Duong Chi Nguyen said.
Nguyen said the condition is even worse at sea, when the searing sensation is intensified in salt water.
“Many soldiers have their skins peeled off in large patches and darkened to the tone of their facial hair after returning from long amphibious drills,” Nguyen added.
Temperatures on the training grounds can reach up to 41 degrees Celsius, according to the lieutenant colonel, during which time training starts half an hour earlier than normal.
Many rookies, unfamiliar with the intensity of the training, have passed out during long-distance marches, or simply from sitting in tactical training sessions under the sun.
During such times, a medical vehicle is always ready to respond and care for the soldiers, according to the lieutenant colonel.
“That being said, after five to six months of training, the marines can march for 15 to 20 kilometers non-stop on the worst day,” Nguyen said.
With such intensive training, mere health and strength are not enough to keep soldiers in the game.
“What matters is the will to overcome yourself,” said Senior Lieutenant Nguyen Van Duong, commander of the battalion’s firepower company.