Crawling for honor
The problem with covering military events in Taiwan is that they are conducted in a controlled environment where almost everything is staged for the media. However, sometimes I would like to see the true grit of army life and the side that is rarely seen in public. Being conscripted to the military myself in Singapore, I have witnessed how tough training can be in the army.
My quest to illustrate this in Taiwan was fulfilled when I negotiated exclusive access to cover the final stage of a nine-week intensive Amphibious Training Program for Taiwan Marine Corps titled “Road to Heaven”.
Ironically, this final test is far from heaven. Trainees go through hell crawling through a 50 meter-long (50 yard) path of jagged coral while stopping to perform various exercises. All this while constantly taunted by instructors and graduates of the course. The crawling lasts 15-20 minutes, if you are lucky. If you are unlucky, unsatisfied instructors may ask you to start again when you near the end.
The test was created to simulate a marine assault on a rock and coral filled coast, as not all beaches in the region are soft sand coasts. It has become almost a rite of passage over the years and ritual a for all Taiwan marines.
The bread and butter of the assignment was documenting the painful expressions of the trainees, but I realized there was more than one aspect to the story. Even though the instructors were harsh with their trainees, they had a good understanding of their limits. The instructors were firm but humane and all trainees passed the test.
Wives, children and parents of the trainees cried as they saw the bodies of their loved ones slowly turn red from bloody scratches while maneuvering through the sharp uneven surface.
The squad of trainees presented strong comradeship and a sense of brotherhood. After receiving first aid, those that had completed the test first, immediately went to the sidelines and broke into army songs to support their fellow soldiers still in the grueling process.
It reflected on what I was told in the army a long time ago. “If you’re not fighting for the war, fight for the person beside you”.