Recruits face challenging tests of their physical and mental abilities: paratroopers and members of special units and infantry, alongside cadets from the Military Academy of Belarus. Tests are being run for the 9th time at the Guards Separate Mobile Brigade shooting range near Vitebsk. When we arrive, it’s an immediate immersion into the military environment. The soldiers have already navigated obstacles and we can hear the crack of submachine gunfire. Tongues of flame flare around us, like flashes of hellfire.
The recruits are obliged to tackle the most difficult obstacles, travelling along ropes 10m high. Others flatten themselves against the ground to creep under barbed wire while some jump over a stone wall and head towards the lake, where they must place their gun and radio into a special bag before wading across.
Not everyone makes the grade: of 62 who began on day one, only six reached the finish line. It’s no surprise; before trying the obstacle course, they endured a 30km march. “After parachuting in, they have to cross wild terrain in full combat gear, orienting through the forest at night,” notes Major Alexey Borisov, the Head of the Ideological Work Department of the 103rd Mobile Brigade. “Moreover, you have to pack up your parachute and adjust your radio antenna to make contact. Marksmanship is tested in all types of weaponry used by the special forces: pistols, submachine guns, sniper rifles, machine guns and grenade launchers.”
The training is of the highest physical and psychological calibre. Moreover, servicemen can only apply after serving at least six months and their candidature must also be approved by the Valour and Mastery Movement Council of their military unit, as well as by their commander.
As a rule, the organisers of the tests have no criticism regarding soldiers’ physical fitness. In fact, most failures happen during the theoretical knowledge tests. Colonel Vadim Denisenko, the Deputy Commander of the Special Operations Forces of the Armed Forces of Belarus, tells us, “I’d like to underline that brains are more important than brawn. We need soldiers who possess the necessary amount of knowledge and who can navigate difficult situations to fulfil a military task. This should be their aim!”
There are seven stages of testing over three days, including making your way through clouds of dense smoke with Kalashnikov machine guns to rendezvous with an intelligence group by night in the forest, before mining enemy ground. It’s no secret that the tasks are hard and that not everyone reaches the finish line. Only the strongest and most determined are awarded the ‘Valour and Mastery’ badge. Some pass on their first try but it can take four attempts. Yevgeny Sergun, a paratrooper with the 103rd Mobile Brigade recalls his own experience. Each stage was more difficult than the last, yet he eventually managed to receive the cherished badge and was then promoted to guard captain. He is now the Chief of the Mobile Battalion Staff and, this year, is preparing his comrade, Lieutenant Sergey Pigas, for the same endurance tests. He is accompanying him through each stage, giving support and encouragement. Sergey is now through to the final stage, thanks to his mentor. Exhausted after three days of continuous marathons and insomnia, he must stand against three rivals for two minutes, over three rounds. Each holds a ‘Valour and Mastery’ badge and it’s forbidden to leave the 5mх5m carpet.
If anyone is knocked to the ground they must begin everything again next year. However, Lieutenant Pigas stood his ground, earning an embrace of respect from his rival, congratulating him on entering this elite club of ‘Valour and Mastery’ badge holders.
“I’m delighted to have received the badge at my first attempt,” admits Sergey, after recovering his breath. “I’ve been striving for this since my third year at the Military Academy and am grateful to all my friends for helping and encouraging me.”
This year, alongside Sergey, four others have become ‘Valour and Mastery’ holders. They are professionals admired by youngsters and on whom commanders primarily pin their hopes.
Contenders who’ve successfully passed tests are awarded their ‘Valour and Mastery’ badges at a solemn closing ceremony, before departing for their military units with a new feeling of pride and fulfilled duty.
By Sergey Gomonov