The Malaysian Army consists of 16 corps and regiments. It takes a special kind of being to commit themselves to be a part of the Army. They are the ones who literally sacrifice their blood, sweat, and tears for the sake of our beloved country.
However, the troops from the 21 Gerup Gerak Khas (GGK)
, a special forces regiment, are on a whole new level. They are the selected ones who made it through a gruelling 12-week selection process to earn their green beret, living up to the expectations to be a commando.
After all, this elite force has long had a reputation for their skills in jungle warfare, sabotage, counter-terrorism, and intelligence gathering. Therefore, only the best of the best will make the cut.
had the chance to sit down and talk to two experienced commandos and one trainee at the Sungai Udang Camp in Melaka to catch a glimpse of how life is like as a commando and as one who is undergoing the extreme selection process.
How It All Started
Major Nor Hasnizar Bin Nor Rashid
’s father played a big role in sparking his interest to join the Army. His father was a serviceman himself, he told us.
“I wanted to continue the legacy,” he said, adding that his family was very supportive, especially his mother.
“My mother really wanted me to join the army,” Maj. Hasnizar recalled.
And so, he did.
During one of the trainings, he was identified by an instructor as one who has what it takes to be a commando. However, he said that the family support he had was shaken by this matter.
“My parents didn’t want me to pursue this because they were afraid that I’d go mad,” he recollected.
A relative of his who was also in the Army questioned his decision to go for the Basic Commando Course as he had doubts over Maj. Hasnizar’s capabilities.
However, the Kedahan stood his ground. In 2001, he underwent the Basic Commando Course and successfully completed it.
When asked about what kept his spirits high throughout the event, Maj. Hasnizar explained: “I wanted to prove to my family members that I can do it.”
Well, he sure did. That relative of his, Maj. Hasnizar said, is proud of his achievement. Besides that, Maj. Hasnizar’s past also motivated him to keep soaring.
“I was bullied as a kid because of my dark skin,” he told Rojak Daily.
Making it as a commando gives him a sense of accomplishment and puts himself as one of the guys you do not want to mess with.
Having held positions that range from troop commander to Head of Commando’s Wing, Maj. Hasnizar is now a Staff Officer II Coordination at the Pusat Latihan Peperangan Khusus (Special Warfare Training Centre) at Sungai Udang Camp.
As for Captain Muhammad Al-Shafiq Bin Mazlan
, his story began with a challenge that was thrown to him by his friend during his years at the Royal Military College.
“In school, I was a bit naughty. My good friend challenged me to join the Army. I took the challenge in a positive way,” he reminisced.
Capt. Al-Shafiq also has an instructor to thank for building his interest in the GGK.
It took him two attempts to earn his title as a commando. During the first course he attended, he was unable to carry on as his medical condition did not permit him to do so.
Today, Capt. Al-Shafiq, who also had stints in the Combat Unit, trains newcomers of the Basic Commando Course. It is a task that not just anybody could execute; only those who qualify after yet another selection process will be allowed to train others.
Their field of expertise, work experience, and even emotional intelligence are among the factors considered before one is accepted to carry the responsibility to bring up others.
To be a Special Forces Operator has always been Second Lieutenant Muhammad Sarul Nizam Bin Abdul Karim
’s ambition since he was a little kid.
Growing up as the son of a commando, he had early exposure to the life of a commando. Talking to us, he told us that he always had that burning desire to follow in the footsteps of his father.
“I saw that he is always in good shape, very well-disciplined and very knowledgeable,” said the 23-year-old.
He had to convince his mother who was hesitant for she knows about the ‘torture’ that awaits.
“I said, 'If dad can do it, why can’t I?'”
Eventually, she gave in. Fast forward a couple of weeks later, he managed to complete the Basic Commando Course and has earned his rights to don the green beret.
What’s The Big Deal About The Basic Commando Course Anyway?
To say that the Basic Commando Course is SUPER TOUGH is an understatement. Before being able to join the course, you have to be a soldier with a good track record. Then, you’d have to go through a 30-day orientation before the course commences.
During this period, you will already be tested with harsh conditions. Only those who can bear it will advance to take part in the Basic Commando Course that lasts for 12 weeks.
The Basic Commando Course is divided into five phases: the camp phase
(five weeks), the jungle phase
(two weeks), the swamp phase and long-range march
(one week), sea phase
(two weeks), and escape and evasion phase
Long story short, the Basic Commando Course is meant to get the best out of you; physically and mentally. It is not a matter to be taken lightly. Those who fall short will be eliminated.
If you can survive through it all, you are definitely a cut above the rest. So, the question for you here is, “Ada berani
Maj. Hasnizar revealed to us that for the previous course that took place (at the time of the interview), it started off with over 200 participants. However, only 16 managed to be the last men standing.
There is a special ceremony for those who successfully complete the course. It is called the 'passing out ceremony' (no, it is not a ceremony where they all literally pass out, although it does sound fitting).
All jokes aside, this is when the trainees officially graduate and are awarded their green beret, blue lanyard, and a Fairbairn & Sykes Commando Dagger.
Capt. Al-Shafiq describes the relieve he felt on his passing out day -- a day that he will never forget -- as akin to a captive being set free. Now imagine that.
During this event, the graduates will also perform bombastic (yes, real explosions do take place!) demonstrations. Besides the VIPs and the graduates’ families, the passing-out ceremony is also usually open to members of the public.
If you get the chance to attend it, you should. It’s a really cool event.
Blood, Sweat And Lots And Lots Of Tears
Second LT Nizam shared with us one of the hardest decisions he has ever had to make.
It was a day before the long-range march -- an event he was preparing himself for since the first day he stepped foot in the camp for the course.
With tears forming in his eyes, he told us: “My father passed away a day before the long-range march. I had to choose whether I wanted to go back and not proceed with the course or stay and proceed but miss out on my father’s funeral.”
It was truly heart-breaking. After a long thought and a discussion with the instructors, Second LT Nizam decided that he will go home to manage his father’s funeral.
“I am the eldest. I had to carry out my responsibility,” he said. With his mother’s approval, he went home and did his part.
Maj. Hasnizar later told us that Second LT Nizam was given the chance to come back and complete the long-range march, which he did.
However, unlike the rest who did it together, he had to do it alone. Only the instructor on set was keeping pace.
Second LT Nizam persevered and completed the 160km march within the given duration of three days and two nights.
As a commando, one has to sacrifice so many of life’s privileges, Maj. Hasnizar told us.
“Family time is very limited," he said.
Whether it’s graduation or kenduri
, they have no choice but to miss out on many such occasions due to their work commitment.
Time management is crucial. The understanding from family members is also just as important, Maj. Hasnnizar stressed.
“My wife understands my duties. When it’s possible, she brings my children to come to visit me at the camp. The support from my wife is very much needed,” said the father of five.
Capt. Al-Shafiq agreed with the two gentlemen above, that the limited time they have for other things because of their responsibilities as commandos.
“Discipline and that willingness in ourselves to sacrifice for our duty,” was his reply to the our question of how they can persevere.
For this lad from Terengganu, his precious time is divided for only work and family. What keeps Capt. Al-Shafiq motivated in doing his job is that sense of responsibility that he has in him.
“I don’t like people to take over my job.”
Even during their off days, commandos are always in standby mode, he told us.
So, Why Would Anyone Want To Be A Commando?
The nature of the job sure is demanding. However, there are perks that come with it. In their field, the prospects that are in store for commandos are good.
Second LT Nizam sees it as opportunity to be able to do things most people can't.
Capt. Al-Shafiq, meanwhile, mentioned that besides the allowance, they are also given the chance to travel to other countries for training or missions.
“We, the commandos from all around the world, know each other,” he beamed.
Maj. Hasnizar feels that being a commando makes him different than the rest.
“For myself, I specialise in counter-terrorism. There are courses that are only open for commandos. And there are a lot of courses overseas whereby we are invited as well,” explained the 35-year-old.
In fact, he just came back from a one-year course in the United States. He also pointed out that the experiences that come with being a commando are some of the things in life that money simply cannot buy.
It’s also a form of challenging one’s self -- testing the limits of how far one could go. In addition to that, there is pride and satisfaction that comes with the job. Commandos are highly regarded for their discipline, bravery, and toughness.
That's probably the biggest reason why people go through the gruelling training just to become a commando.
But It's Not For The Faint-Hearted
If you feel that this is your calling, the advice from these men could be of help before you get going.
Second LT Nizam’s said: “To join the Basic Commando Course, you have to prepare yourself right from the beginning”.
He also emphasised the importance of having the right mindset -- you need to have that deep passion to want to be a commando.
“You have to gain the support from your family because it will give you strength. It’s about strength and moral support. There is a connection between being prepared and getting their blessings,” he added.
Capt. Al-Shafiq, too, spoke about how crucial it is to prepare yourself for the occasion.
“Be prepared physically and mentally. Do not think that it’s going to be a walk in the park.”
When asked about how to keep going in such tough situations, he shared with us how when he was in the Army College, he had a quote he placed where he could see it every time he lies down to go to sleep.
It goes, “Letih saya hari ini adalah untuk kekuatan saya esok hari
”, which translates to “My exhaustion today is for my strength tomorrow”.
Also, discipline is key. Capt. Al-Shafiq explains that to have good discipline, “You need to get rid of your ego. You must be receptive to the commands given”.
He further said: “You must possess the never-say-die spirit. I was afraid too, but I fought my fears”.
In Maj. Hasnizar’s opinion, to make it through, one must have the interest.
“Once you have the interest, you can do everything. You need the interest. You can gain everything after that.”
He used the example of normal people who run marathons or go extreme hiking, saying that they were usually able to overcome the challenges because of the interest they have in the activity.
“They then become strong”, he said.
The same rule applies in this field, said Maj. Hasnizar, adding that he is also a firm believer of the fact that interest can be built.
Society’s Common Misconceptions
Society always seems to have a certain mindset for everything -- it’s the act of stereotyping, really. The commandos are not left out in this matter.
Second LT Nizam told us that most people think that commandos can do the unthinkable because they take drugs or practice black magic.
“That is not true. Every strength we have comes from the intensive training we go through. It’s not black magic or drugs”.
We also asked Maj. Hasnizar about how the commandos' 'mad' label came about, and he told us a pretty interesting story.
Maj. Hasnizar explained that “back in the days, when someone doesn’t pass the Basic Commando Course and they go back to their hometown, they sometimes become mad.“
Then, there were those who retired from the service. They go back to live among the civilians, but their lifestyle is just not the same anymore because when normal people are sleeping, for example, commandos are busy skydiving or walking in the jungle.
“So, to adapt to the ‘normal’ way of life right after they retire is quite a challenge because they are still always on alert,” said Maj. Hasnizar.
Working Behind The Scenes
The most common question commandos -- or the military, as a matter of fact -- get asked is what do they do on a daily basis, especially when there is no war.
Second LT Nizam told us that although we don't see what they do, it doesn't mean that they are not doing anything.
"Most of the missions that involve the Malaysian Army are not disclosed to the public because there is sensitive information. That’s why the public does not know the true story of what we do. It’s all about trust”.
Capt. Al-Shafiq would like to make it clear that “commandos don’t just laze around. We go for training -- some of which the public can see for themselves. We are always working hard to ensure the safety of the country”.
So, what do commandos do when there's war?
“Normally, commandos will carry out important missions whereby the tasks are meant to make way for our side’s victory," Maj. Hasnizar explained.
"Commandos move in small groups to sabotage the enemy’s logistics, the line of communications in order to give the room to the bigger-scaled troops to attack.”
This 1 March, the commandos as well as the Malaysian army will celebrate their 85th Malaysian Army Day.
The public would probably not put too much importance on the date -- they might not even know such a celebration exists -- but Maj. Hasnizar is fine with that.
“You don’t need to know what we do. We don’t expect respect from you. We don’t need your respect or command, but know that we’ll be there when you need us.”