:: Potential Royal Marine Course Debrief/Journal - 05-08 February 2002 ::
:: My PRMC Diary by Gipper
This is written for someone who knows very little about the PRMC and RM experience (because several of the candidates I met seemed alarmingly unaware of what they were about to attempt). PRMC is a three-day selection course run at CTCRM (Commando Training Centre Royal Marines) near Lympstone in the south west of England that allows the Royal Marines to screen suitable candidates as well as allows those candidates to get a glimpse of what the Corps does and what training is really like. Successful candidates will then return 8-12 weeks after PRMC to begin the 30-week Royal Marines Commando training.
05th February 2002:
Arrived at Lympstone Commando train station around 1400. Other than kit issue and a brief introduction from our course corporal we didn't do too much this night (filled out a simple little Corps history/equipment questionnaire to get us thinking about the interview). Regarding kit issue; the kit list lies, several things it lists are already included or irrelevant. They issued cutlery and cups/canteens. Padlocks and washing powder were not required (we never actually washed anything). Lights out was 2200 and we were warned wake-up time was 0515. The corporal had told us to start consuming mass quantities of water and Lucozade, and we did, and paid the price. Most people went to the washroom multiple times over the next couple hours (three times for me and my wee bladder). At this point the course had 47 candidates in total and my room had 15 of them in it (including myself). From talking to people who've taken the course before it seems we had a lower than average number of people. They seemed to have classes with between 50 and 60 people.
06th February 2002:
Woke up nice and early and we all rushed to the showers. For most of us this 'navy/Marine' way of taking showers was a new experience. Basically there are three nozzles in the shower room (actually four, but one is broken and only drips most of the time) and you have to establish a cycle to get everyone showered in time. You jump in for about 15 seconds and get wet, jump out and soap up and let someone else get wet, then trade again and jump back in to rinse off. After showering and shaving we all went back to our rooms and started morning care taking, including bed making, kit storing and cleaning (dusting and mopping) the accommodation areas. Pretty quick and painless. The course corporal only made very cursory inspections of our work, although he made sure to point out that such inspections would be much more strict in real training.
After morning scran (breakfast) we changed into PT gear (physical training) in anticipation of Gym Test 1 but first stopped off for a lecture from the PRMC Sgt Major and a corporal dealing with an introduction and pay and conditions. Nothing new here, although I was surprised by how many of the candidates we're unaware of the basic pay of a Marine. Then it was into the gym...
The PTI's immediately had us formed up and marking time (basically running on the spot; knees high and arms pumping). They then took us on a rather strenuous warm-up routine that got me huffing and puffing pretty quickly. First up for the official tests was the VO2 Max Bleep Test. As we had the whole gym open, the PTI's decided to run the whole class in one big Bleep Test instead of splitting it up. With this many people shuttle running in tight quarters you had to be very careful not to trip on any of your mates. Next we did the press-ups. The press-ups are counted every time your chest touches your partner's fist, which is lying on the floor. This created a bit of a problem for many candidates as they had practiced press-ups in a fashion that didn't go this low and therefore many of their press-ups were not counted. In addition the PTI's were *very* picky on form and were quick to deduct from the count when they saw something amiss. Same thing with the sit-ups, if your legs weren't completely together and your elbows weren't slapping the pad on the way down and your knees on the way up then you had deductions. In this environment of a tough, exhausting warm-up and form-conscious exercises, most of the candidates fell well short of their normal totals for press-ups and sit-ups. In preparation I had no problem doing the maximum allowed of 60 press-ups and 80 sit-ups, but in the Gym Test I struggled to a total of 37 press-ups and 58 sit-ups.
We then moved to the pull-up test. Interestingly they don't use a beam anymore but rather a more normal bar. Even in this tired state most people didn't have too much trouble getting 5 or the maximum 6 pull-ups.
Next came the swim test (not really a test actually) and nobody seemed to have much of a problem with it. This test is easy, just jump off the 2m platform and swim breaststroke to the other end of the pool and climb out. No treading water, no combat fatigues, just a very basic demonstration of your swimming ability.
We then went off for midday scran (lunch) although we were warned not to eat or drink too much because up next was the High Obstacle and Assault Course. The most important thing to know about this test is that it isn't really about the High Obstacle or Assault Course; it's about kicking your ass so hard into the dirt that you can't breath or think straight. The "warm-up" for this phase went on for what seemed like 30-45 minutes, although it may have been shorter. This warm-up was by far the most intense period of physical activity I've been on in my entire life and was completely draining. We were in boots, denims and combat jackets and they had us sprinting all over the field, rolling and crawling in mud and marking time when they had to think of what next to put us through. Probably doesn't sound so bad from the description but the intensity was much higher than anything else I've experienced. This intensity was kept up throughout the running of the actual High Obstacle and Assault Course. The High Obstacle course consists of several ropes that you must pull yourself across, a 30-foot boardwalk and then a climb down a cargo net. After falling off on my first attempt across a rope, I quickly mastered the technique and finished this portion. This section is mainly to determine your confidence in dealing with heights, although I don't even remember being conscious of the heights involved, I was just thinking of my throbbing chest the whole time.
We then proceeded to do each section of the Assault Course so as to learn the proper technique. At this point I found the monkey bars rather easy, but they were dry. After tackling each obstacle in isolation we setup to do the timed test run around the course. I quickly cleared the Tank Trap (water obstacle) and the 6ft Wall but as I came to the Scramble Net (rock crawl under a low net) I crashed through the puddle at the beginning getting my hands and jacket all muddy and wet. This was not good because the Monkey Bars were next. As I attacked the bars I got about two bars in before I slipped off and into the water. It's waist deep but I went in ass first and submerged completely. Refreshing... got out and tried again... splash. Climbed out again and was about to jump on the bar when the instructor yelled at me to get my ass moving to the next obstacle. Next it was over the Zig Zag Wall and then the Chasm, which was another rope crawl and was agony by this time (I have a nice big bruise on my sternum from where a button pressed up against me as I was crossing the ropes) and then a three-stride sprint over the Swing Bridge obstacle. After this was an attempted sprint up the hill towards the 5ft Wall, then more sprinting up the hill towards the Gate Vault. Then full speed into one of the 20yard Tunnels (they are dog-legged). By this stage I was near delirious with exhaustion and wasn't really paying much attention to myself as I slid and banged around through the tunnel until I finally popped out the other end and attempted to sprint down to the 12ft Wall. I grabbed a rope and climbed up to the top, yelled out my name and hopped down the stairs on the other side and hobble sprinted to the finish. By this time I was dead and could barely keep up with the jog around in a circle during the cool-down period. As we marched back to the accommodation it started to sink in with alarming clarity that I was still soaking wet in the middle of winter. Thankfully we were released to the showers as soon as we got back. As we assembled in our rooms after the shower we were all quite shocked by how hard this test had been, but also very proud that we had done it. Other than evening scran (supper) we didn't do much else on this day other than scrubbing mud off our uniforms and meeting with the 'Diamonds' (senior) recruits. This was an interesting meeting as they were on week 24 of training and had done some very interesting field exercises. This didn't last too long and even though we didn't have to be lights out until 2230, my room was lights out by 2015. Blessed sleep... and more pee runs.
7th February 2002:
Woke up again nice and early at 0515 or so. My knees were throbbing, my feet were swollen and blistered and my legs were on fire. It was rather painful making it to scran. Most other people were also in some sort of discomfort from the previous day's workout. After scran we went out on the parade square and practiced some drill. This was pretty easy for me with my cadet experience, although you have to modify it somewhat because naval-style drill doesn't have the knee raising and feet mashing of army-style drill (after all it's on a ship, you don't want to whack your knee on a right turn).
After drill it was time for the 3-Mile Group Run in 22.5 minutes. Now normally this wouldn't present a problem for most of the fellows there, but at this point many of us were really sore and still quite exhausted from the day before. But that was the point of the course, to see who could push past that and who couldn't. For myself, my troubles started before we even began the run. I was having difficulty during the warm-up jog. The run itself was along a pleasant country tarmac road with a few mild dips and hills. After less than a couple minutes of running I was already struggling and started to fall back after a km. The PTI's were screaming at me to get back into formation, but I just couldn't get my legs to get me back up and after about a minute I was told I'd failed.
Oddly I didn't feel too bad about this, as I knew that I'd pushed well beyond any limit that I've ever had before. I wasn't up to Royal Marines standards yet, but I'd proven to myself that I could do more than I'd ever thought I would. Seven other fellows also failed the run, one owing to a pulled hamstring. Once we returned to the warm-up area a PTI asked us if we wished to continue the course even though we couldn't pass. I decided to continue because I was curious to see the last test of the day and also because I wanted a few more free meals and night of accommodation (sure beat staying in some expensive, yet dirty and noisy hostel in London).
We then had interviews with our corporals. This was quite easy although some basic knowledge of the Corps history and composition would be advisable. It lasted for about five minutes with about half being personal details and motivation and the other half being a mild quizzing on Corps issues. A few things to know for sure would be the RM's birthday, the location and numbering of the Commandos and the four Commando tests. Other areas to be somewhat knowledgeable about would be the Corps battle honours/dates, Corps Victoria Crosses and the other units of the Corps and 3 Commando Brigade.
After hanging out in the accommodation area and performing some more cleaning we were off to the gym for Gym Test 2. This test has five 'games' that must be cycled through by everyone. The group is divided into five groups and each group works at each game for three minutes and then you move on to the next one. There is only one cycle so the whole exercise lasts just a little longer than 15 minutes. It is, however, probably the most intense 15 minutes of the whole course. The games are quite basic and repetitive in nature with three focusing on individual effort and the other two more team play oriented. Two of the games involved hand-over-hand movement down a horizontal bar and this led to a lot of nasty blisters for many of the candidates. After the games, we put the equipment away and prepared for the floor sprinting portion of the exercise. The PTI said that if we were seen to be trying hard, as a group, that he'd only make us do five or six sprints, but that he'd hammer us with many more if he saw slackers. Surprisingly he kept to his word and our group only did six or seven in total. I'd heard horror stories from returning candidates about this portion of the test and so was rather surprised when we moved into the warm-down. All total, counting warm-up and warm-down I'd estimate that this test lasted probably 45 minutes to an hour, but it was very intense, and from what I've heard we may have gotten off somewhat easy on this section.
Now all the hard work was over and we had the chance to relax a little. The rest of the day consisted of returning kit, meeting with Foundation-phase (first three weeks of training) recruits and a few lectures. The most interesting part of the evening was the weapons lecture where we got to handle many of the light and medium arms of the Corps. The lecturer, an anti-tank specialist, was also quite excited to talk about the new Israeli Gill/Spike ATGM system that the Corps was to soon field. It has a range of 4000m. After this we dragged our tired arses back to the accommodation for a well-earned sleep.
08th February 2002:
This day was exclusively administrative with no physical activity. We received a fitness brief from a PTI and the successful candidates were fitted and issued with a pair of combat boots that they were instructed to have broken in by the time they returned for training. The unsuccessful candidates met with the Sgt Major to discuss their future. Owing to my lackluster performance I was given the option of returning in three months, although I extended that to four (cheaper flights the further out you book). Then there was final kit and linen return and we were off to the train stop around 1300 or so.
Advice and Observations:
I definitely underestimated the difficulty of this course (as did most of the first timers, even those who passed). I thought that by being able to max out the posted standards of each test that I'd be able to pass this course with little difficulty, but that's not the way it's run. They're not really interested in watching you belt out your 60 push-ups and 80 sit-ups; they want to see what you can do after they've run you through the wringer. So my advice would be to train in a more general fashion than just working on the set standards that are mentioned in the PRMC fitness guide. I'd also recommend that you be able to exceed the maximums by around 50% so that you can approach the maximums during the actual tests when you are tired and worn out. Make sure that your warm-up is very thorough and tiring and try and keep your training intense (heart rate always up). If you're waiting for a piece of equipment or something, mark time by running on the spot. Stamina and endurance are what are being tested the most over these two intense days. Also, be sure to get lots of sprint/fartlek style training in. This will help on the Bleep Test as well as the Assault Course and Gym Test 2.
A Few Notes:
• Don't wear gel in your hair. A drill instructor gave one of the guy's hell for that.
• If you practice on monkey bars, make sure you clamp it with your thumb under the bar. They are quite picky about that.
• Work on extending your bladder capacity before you go there. Being out on the Assault Course for a couple hours had a lot of guys peeing in their pants.
• Bring good training shoes.
• Make sure you can tie the bottom of the issued combat jacket around your waist so as to keep it out of your way when you're crossing the ropes on the Assault Course. If the string is broken, ask for a different one.
• Don't fidget, scratch or wipe your brow when in the gym. The PTI's will drop you for push-ups if they see you do any of these. The idea is that you're learning discipline, i.e. it would be bad to swat an annoying fly if you were sitting in ambush.
• Keep a good attitude and take it in stride when the instructors or PTI's get in your face. It's not personal and they're just trying to motivate you.
• Shave every morning. One guy got in trouble for having a bit of stubble.
• Learn as much about the Corps as you can before you get in. I was amazed at how many guys were unaware of the low pay that recruits earn. I think several of the early guys quit just because they weren't interested in the Corps anymore after learning about the low wages.
• Failing one section doesn't necessarily mean you will fail the course. The instructors know that it might be bad luck that made you fail (such as a trip on the Bleep Test) and may pass you if you show superior effort in the other sections. So unless they tell you outright that you've failed, never give up.
• Try to keep your wits about you as you become fatigued, especially on the Assault Course. It's very easy to just keep droning on and injure yourself. I almost slipped on some scaffolding and by the time I got to the tunnels I was banging my knees way too much because I wasn't concentrating enough. Most injuries are caused by bad form brought on by fatigue.
• Be careful on the Bleep Test that you don't run into or trip over people. It's pretty crowded on that test. Also, don't always push off on the same foot. Alternate every few lengths to even out the fatigue.
• If you see other fit looking young fellows on the train to Lympstone Commando chances are they're probably going to PRMC too, so say 'hi'. You'll be arriving at the same time as them so you'll probably be assigned to the same room.
• Have fun. It will be stressful, but keep in good humour, and remember, unless you're a turd or a complete jerk, they will let you have another go at it in another few months if you screw up or aren't quite up to scratch.
Our course started with 47 candidates and finished with 18. In my room, we had 15 candidates of which five were successful. My room had two previous recruits that had gotten to week 15 of RM training some years earlier. Only one passed PRMC this time. There were also two other fellows that had been to PRMC before but both failed again this time. Of the five fellows in my room who did pass, three of them were quite worried that they had failed and it came as a surprise to them when they were selected. You'll have a hard time predicting passers and failures. Having a previous recruit fail was quite a surprise, as was seeing a skinny, short 16-year-old pass. I'm looking forward to going again and doing it right this time.
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