Commandos train for Olympic Games

When the sergeant-major from the Special Forces at Sarantaporos, Elassona reported to Deputy Defense Minister Lazaros Lotidis on the «battlefield» at Rentina army camp in Thessaloniki, there was no sign of tension in his expression. There was no indication that in just a few seconds he and his team would be slithering head-first down ropes in full armor from an 18-meter-high cement tower. The sergeant-major’s regular army brigade from Sarantoporos is just one of the teams which have the training required by anti-terrorist teams and by all teams trained for combat in residential areas and such operations as bursting into a building from one nearby or from the terrace of an apartment block. The men, who belong to the First Commandos-Parachutists Brigade, have received special training in modern techniques of unconventional warfare and will undergo further training until the moment they are called on to help create a «steel umbrella» of security for the 2004 Olympic Games in Athens. The troops will support the police, who are in charge of security. Their demonstration for the deputy minister and senior officials was rapid and successful, but when they rejoined their platoon, carrying their M-16s, they weren’t even out of breath. The special forces soldiers who lined up to salute the deputy minister acted as if dangling like spiders from the training tower and racing up and down it while exchanging fire, was the simplest thing in the world. They demonstrated techniques of abseiling down the tower, dropping from a helicopter and lowering a casualty on a stretcher by rope from a building. Shortly afterward, they disappeared behind a smokescreen, merging into the ground and the plane trees, only to reappear suddenly like ghosts in front of the official tent, taking everyone by surprise. The special forces undergo a tough training program at Rentina, the toughest the army can offer. Apart from iron discipline and total dedication to the mission, it demands constant exercise, adapting methods to new situations, use of modern weapons and above all, willing commitment. The survival course where they train and exercise is a veritable labyrinth that stretches across the dense lakeside forest of Volvi, which is frequently shrouded in heavy fog, creating a perfect setting for practising in unfavorable circumstances. What sets these men apart is their conviction that «there is no obstacle they cannot handle,» their commanding officer commented during the demonstration. The commandos learn to survive in the wild, disregarding hunger, thirst, bad weather and pain. After that, action in mild weather or cities is child’s play to them. They know how to make a shelter from their parachute or waterproofs, how to hide in the ground or snow, or disappear among shadows, trees or buildings. Their weapon is like an extension of their arm, and they are skilled at techniques of camouflage, disguise and concealment in inhabited or uninhabited areas. They have their own lingo of terms such as foxhole, water trap, nest and lake hide (like those of the Viet Cong). They know how to move alone or with other fighters and how to stalk their prey like wild animals. They have learnt how to use sand and mud to filter water and to make traps for man and beast. The unit which will help provide security in 2004 has done this kind of work before. It was actively involved in security for the European Union summit in June in Halkidiki.