We were fortunate enough here at SpecialOperations.com to sit down with Gary Humphrey former Royal Marine Commando and SBS over the weekend. Gary or better known as Gaz to his friends gave us some nice insight on the selection courses of the Marines and the SBS. He relayed some of his experiences as well and it makes for a fun and intriguing look back at one man’s journey.
Gaz makes his home in the states now and lives on the Florida coast, but he’s not there very often as he’s constantly on the go with film projects, and just got back from one in Panama (yes, I’m jealous) but we’ll get to more of that later.
Humphrey started his career as a young man in the Royal Marine Commandos. “They always say 99 percent of the people fail, just to get in the Marines,” he said. “It is a state of mind,” he added. He did a total of 17 years of service between the Marines and SBS.
The test to get into Marine training consisted of a three-day course, Gaz was one of only two candidates out of 50 who passed. So, the odds are stacked against you to even get into the 32-week training course of the Marine Commandos.
The Commando Training Center is located near the villages of Lympstone and Exton and has been the site of training since 1960 and successful candidates will be awarded the Green Beret upon successful completion.
Humphrey began Marine training at just 19 years of age, but he was far from the youngest. “Some of the guys were just 16,” he remembers. “We had quite a range of ages, between 16 and 25, that’s how old the oldest guy was.”
“We started with 50 guys in the class and finished with 11. But some guys get injured in training and get put back into the next class but there were 11 out of the original 50.”
The first 15 weeks was basic training and then the Commando training begins. It consists of weapons handling, climbing, and ropework, patrolling and amphibious warfare training. It is the only course where officers and enlisted men are trained at the same location in the British military.
The tests given at the end of training that all candidates must pass have remained virtually unchanged since World War II.
The Endurance course is a six-mile course which begins with a two-mile run across rough terrain which includes tunnels, pipes, and an underwater culvert. The course ends with a four-mile run back to the Commando Training Centre. There the candidates have a marksmanship test, where each must hit 6 out of 10 shots at a 25m target simulating 200 m. It must be completed in 73 minutes or less.
“In our last week of training, we had to do an assault course, the Endurance Course and a Tarzan Commando course which consisted of a lot of high ropes and climbs and finishes with a 30-mile course was done up in Dartmoor, which is about an hour and a half away with full kit and a pack on. I believe we had eight hours to complete it.”
“All of those courses had to be done in one week and if you passed all of that in the last week, you are awarded a Green Beret,” he said. He was assigned to 42 Commando in Plymouth upon his successful completion of the course. The operational training tempo was high, winter warfare training in Norway, additional training in the Mediterranean and other places soon followed.
His unit, 42 Commando was assigned to Northern Ireland where the dangers were inherently known. “Back in 1989, in just one day, 42 Commando was subject to 24 shootings or bombings in Belfast,” he said. All of 42 Commando and the Airborne guys from 3 Para were on the streets of Belfast,” he said.
“Cars were shot up, buildings were blown up, it was just crazy. But Northern Ireland was a great training area and experience for the Royal Marines,” he added. “Brilliant stuff.”
In 1990, he volunteered for Special Forces Selection and Training in the SBS (Special Boat Service). “About 90 percent of the SBS came from the Marines.” The candidates today go thru the same Selection course which is a combined and then after successful completion, the SAS will go thru their own training program and the SBS will go thru theirs.
“It was a bit of a dog-eat-dog relationship back then, the Army guys in the SAS hated the Marines and the SBS. I understand it has changed a bit, but I’m sure there is still some of that.”
“It was like that for years, if you attended one of their courses….they absolutely hated you, You were like a second-class citizen there,” Gaz said.
“Our training course to get into the SBS was horrendous. And a lot of was very pointless.” I asked him to further explain, the pointless aspect.
“Okay, I was like, ‘why the fuck are we naked again’ because we were naked all the time. And it made no sense. We’d be doing a diving course at two o’clock in the morning and they’d say we screwed something up and make us strip down and do it naked.”
He also made an observation that plays out in everyone’s military. “At the start of the course, you’d see these guys that looked like Adonis and some guys were trying to tell them to get a bit pudgy and put some weight on because we were going to need it. And it was very true.”
“The guys built like Adonis, they go into the water naked and they’ve got no fat on them, they couldn’t hack it, but many of them thought the treatment was just stupid and just left.
“A lot of good soldiers just withdrew and went back to the Marines. Some of them went on to some good career paths but the training we did was a bit silly. It was a bit pointless I think.”
In our next segment, our interview with Humphrey will finish up and we’ll touch on some of his Special Forces service and some of the things he’s doing these days.
Photo courtesy of UK Ministry of Defense