Histroy Channel Asia released a new set of shows this month of September, 2012 regarding the Special Forces of South East Asian (SEA) countries. They only announced three shows so far, I don’t know if they will be doing more. The three shows cover the Philippines’ “Marine Force Recon (FR)”, Malaysia’s “Grup Gerak Khas (GGK)”, and one of Thailand’s Special Forces.
The Philippines MFR and GGK were shown back to back Sunday, September 9, 2012, while the Thailand feature will be shown a week later. Documentary channels like “The History Channel” have before done shows on Special Forces from other countries, particularly from the United States, but this is the first time it has done so for SEA Special Forces in recent memory.
I highly anticipated the shows, and I was lucky enough to have caught the first two installments, and I was left a bit stunned, and confused after watching them.
‘Philippines Marine Force Recon’
The show focused more on the Airborne Training that these Marines had. They had to undergo training and actual jumps to earn a Silver Wing. The Physical Exercises on the first day of the training seemed good, but what bothered me was how they didn’t show candidates being weeded out.
The rest of the show covered the remaining training program, and it seems to have focused more on teaching rather than weeding out candidates. The only candidate who didn’t make it was the one who got injured. Otherwise, everybody passed. It looked like unless you really screwed up a lot and managed to keep up with physical requirements of the course, you will pass.
My initial reaction to the show was one of confusion. The Marines are the elite, VOLUNTEER unit of the Philippine Armed Forces, and their “Force Recon” (FR) was supposed to be the “elite of the elite”. You needed to be a Marine first, and then you needed to volunteer again to be tested and weeded out to join the FR group. And yet their training program on the show left me unimpressed and severely underwhelmed.
To be fair, the Marines have shown to be quite smart and very professional based on some of the reports I have seen related to procurement of their weapons. And yet, the show to me was underwhelming at best, not really as tough as I expected. Not that it means I can pass it myself, but the standard should be based on what we have seen with other Special Forces training.
‘Malaysia’s Grup Gerak Khas’
The GGK training and selection was very, very impressive. They focused more on SELECTION, rather than teaching. Their course was designed to weed out the unfit and ensure that only the “Survival of the Fittest” will finish the course. It started off with 36 straight hours of Physical Activity, then followed by a three-day forced march, and capped off with a survival course wherein the candidates were left in the jungle on their own for two weeks with nothing but just their shorts, boots and machetes.
The group started out with 180 volunteers, but at the end of the course only around 100 passed the selection and training process, for an acceptance rate of only 55%, or slightly over half. Almost half of the volunteers, 45% or around 80 soldiers, did not pass the course.
What impressed me most was the support group that they had. Their course was DANGEROUS in that it could lead to DEATHS if not properly administered. During the forced march, for example, several candidates were in danger of DYING due to over exertion and/or dehydration, with them lying on the ground with their eyes open and unfocused, and you could see clearly they were on the brink of death.
They had lost too many fluids and electrolytes due to the non-stop physical exertions, but kudos to the emergency units to come in on their ambulances and administer dextrose and other emergency procedures at just the right time to prevent tragedy.
It takes a very PROFESSIONAL group of trainers to monitor EFFECTIVELY the candidates all throughout the gruelling course, because if not, tragedy could and will happen. I have to say that I was VERY, VERY IMPRESSED with the GGK after watching the show. They had an EFFECTIVE and very PROFESSIONAL training regimen. I have the utmost respect for them now.
I felt really disturbed after watching the two shows, as it clearly showed the shortcomings of the Philippine Special Forces group. I surfed the net for reactions about the shows, particularly in the Philippine Defense forums, and a few did echo my feelings and noted these down in the forums.
The reaction from some members of the Philippine Special Forces community were mainly defensive, dismissing the honest comments as either, “you’re not a soldier or a special forces candidate, you don’t know anything”, or “oh, we have better, we just didnt’ show it because we didn’t want to show off”. Some even had the gall to react something like, “we don’t show off for Hollywood, we are serious and secretive”, or something to that effect. Others say the common excuse, that the “government was corrupt, the budget for the soldiers are not enough”.
I think these excuses are bullshit. The gear of the Force Recon Marines could be better, but they were definitely serviceable and adequate for the task at hand. The trainings themselves do not require “high tech” stuff, as shown by the GGK training.
The shows reflect the severe shortcomings of the Philippine Armed Forces, as compared to the other Special Forces in South East Asia. Our armed forces are just not Professional or COMPETENT enough as the others. The results speak for themselves: Malaysia does NOT have an insurgency problem, while the Philippines has suffered thru both an Islamic AND Communist insurgency for at least 50 years now.
The problem I see is that our Generals are really focused more on enriching themselves rather than doing a good job. For some reason, the Philippines just doesn’t have a society focused on doing a good job, or focusing on results. Philippine society is polarized, divided into groups who go after each other socially. What results is too much politicking between these groups, to the point that it breeds MEDIOCRITY and INCOMPETENCE.
My guess is that after these series of shows, the Philippine Armed Forces will OVERCOMPENSATE and put up a song and dance show for the next documentary that will be done on our Special Forces, after being embarassed at how much they are left behind by our SEA neighbors. Despite their efforts, people will notice if they are faking it, you know. You just can’t fake these things. Values like “Competence” has to be ingrained deep into society among the people to work, and as of right now, I can’t imagine how that could happen in the Philippines.