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Former soldier chronicles career as a commando

Jake Olafsen, right, writes of his years in the Royal Marine Commandos, including two tours in Afghanistan, in his first book. - Photo contributed
Jake Olafsen, right, writes of his years in the Royal Marine Commandos, including two tours in Afghanistan, in his first book.
— image credit: Photo contributed

Lying in the mud during a downpour spooning his neighbour wasn’t exactly how Jake Olafsen envisioned spending the night.

Yet there he was with five troop mates huddled together in a torrential downpour under a meagre shelter of branches hastily constructed and doing little to lessen the impact of the rain.

“It was the end of a five-day exercise and we were completely fatigued in every way – freezing, wet, hungry, malnourished, sleep-deprived, just completely screwed,” said Olafsen. “We just needed to stay warm any way we could.”

Only a short while earlier, Olafsen was nearing the end of his maneouvre with his Royal Marine Commandos troop, when his commanding officer announced they would start survival training. The officer took their jackets, equipment and food, gave them a live chicken and rabbit as well as an empty bean can and left.

The tale, titled ‘Spooning’, is one of many in Olafsen’s book Wearing the Green Beret: A Canadian with the Royal Marine Commandos. The graduate of Wellington Secondary School chronicles his career in the elite unit of the United Kingdom’s military.

“It talks about the modern soldier,” said Olafsen. “It’s a complete cradle to grave of an entire career.”

His book chronicles his four-year military career from when he joined the Royal Marines in 2004 to his two tours in Afghanistan in 2006 and 2007. He discusses the sacrifices, burying friends, killing the enemy and enduring gruelling situations.

Olafsen said in the past, military careers often spanned 20 years or more, but modern soldiers typically serve for shorter tours.

Receiving his green beret was monumental, knowing he survived one of the most gruelling training of any military unit. It was during a typical dress uniform drill that his commander screamed out ‘Royal Marines to your duty quick march.’

“That’s a very, very special moment. You’ve done it. Now you are being referred to as a Royal Marine, not just a peon or a maggot,” he said.

When Olafsen joined in 2004, the Canadian military wasn’t yet in Kandahar, Afghanistan. He had no way of predicting that Canadian forces would become as involved as they are. By joining the Royal Marines, it ensured he would serve somewhere active.

The Royal Marines have one of the most demanding and longest of any military branch.

Recruits spend a minimum of eight months in training, crawling through the mud with machine guns and pushing their bodies to the limit while trying to learn the technical aspects of the job.

“It was insane,” said Olafsen.

The training is to ensure the troops can survive and be physically fit to carry the necessary equipment. During a typical day in the filed Olafsen carried  his machine gun with 800 rounds of ammunition and body armor, totalling more than 45 kilograms of weight.

His class started with nearly 60 people and only 20 remained when they graduated. The failure rate is more than 50 per cent.

Olafsen’s family has a long Canadian military history. He’s the fourth generation to serve in uniform. His great grandfather was in the Royal Northwest Mounted Police, his grandfather served in the Canadian military during the second World War and his father served in the air force.

Olafsen, 31, now lives in Campbell River and works for Nanaimo’s SupErb construction as a carpenter. He wants to eventually work in the private security industry overseas.

He’s in the process of writing his second book, a military action work of fiction.

“I kind of pitch it as Tom Clancy for dummies,” said Olafsen.

Olafsen’s book Wearing the Green Beret: A Canadian with the Royal Marine Commandos, published by McClelland & Stewart, is available at most bookstores.

 

Royal Marine Commandos

The Royal Marines are an elite fighting force for the United Kingdom formed in 1664.

The first soldiers served in the British fleet, the Duke of York and Albany’s regiment of Foot, and acted as soldiers and seamen. Throughout the 18th and 19th centuries they were an integral part of military troops establishing the British empire.

During the Second World War, 80,000 men served as Royal Marines and commando squads were formed in 1942. Commandos were amongst the first soldiers to land on D-Day, when allied troops invaded the shores of Normandy to liberate Europe from Nazi occupation in June of 1944. Two-thirds of all landing crafts were crewed by Royal Marines.

Throughout the 1990s, troops participated in a number of conflicts including the Congo Republic, Bosnia, Northern Ireland and Sierra Leone.

Royal Marine training is the longest basic infantry training program of any NATO combat troops. Recruits receive a green beret on graduation. The coveted beret means the soldier made it into one of the most elite military units and shown courage, perseverance and determination to succeed in the face of adversity.

 

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