I sit with a well presented local young man who recently turned nineteen and on the day of his birthday July 1st, he crowned his lifetime ambition of receiving his ‘green beret’ and thus becoming a Royal Marine, a rare breed of tenacious fighting men and women, just like my guest Ryan Brown. The Royal Marines’ battle honours are legendary and along with the ‘Parachute Regiment’ they are the elite fighting units of the British Forces.
The Royal Marines have an even more elite squadron which they call the SBS (Special Boat Squadron) to which they invite special soldiers, only outstanding new recruits. To join the SBS ideally you need the background of Royal Marine training because you are at the top of their operational skills tree. Above SAS and US Navy Seals. Our young man has already set his sights on that long-term goal and he’s only just started the journey.
Ryan Brown has a brother, Sean Lee Brown, who is a specialist seaman in the Royal Navy at HMS Lancaster based in Portsmouth. Their mother is Gillaine Fabre Brown and father Mathew Brown is a building contractor established here since 1991. That local connection gives us ‘bragging rights’ and it was their grandmother Maureen Lima Fabre Hook who kindly put me on to this wonderful story.
As a young marine after completing the gruelling ‘30 miler’ qualifier ‘Yomp’ on his birthday, Ryan has already been notified which unit that he is been attached to; the 42 Commando squadron. This platoon were dropped by helicopter on the decks of the ‘Grace One’ while she was anchored in BGTW and arrested the fuel carrier in a daring mission which provoked an international incident with Iran.
We’re now ready to chat about what it means for Ryan Brown to achieve such a distinction on his nineteenth birthday and also about the daunting challenge of having to live up to the high standards set on the commando training as part of his new everyday life. Ryan now eagerly looks forward to being a Royal Marine attached to marine operations and enjoying his ‘green beret’ status. No mean achievement for a young lad, so I asked him if he thought that after the induction training he was now a better version of himself.
“One hundred percent! As soon as you arrive at the training platform they start to drill you on how to be a better version of yourself in every aspect of your life. You very quickly establish who you really are and how you react to things when the chips are down. I think that the eight months of training is perfect to get you to be a new and better version of yourself.”
The training is designed to ‘equalise’ young men who may have come from other regiments and other professions and skill sets. Ryan thinks that at around mid course everyone is at par. “You get lads at different levels, some have done soldiering before so obviously they help those who haven’t and we all come up in the training together.”
I wondered whether Ryan had sleepless nights near the end of the course pondering on the tough physical and mental challenges which are designed to bring out the best in men under pressure. “Certainly you worry but at around week 28 (of 32) you train for cliff assaults, beach landings, day and night operations and lots of other stuff and they build you up with nine consecutive days on the field carrying heavy kit (100 pounds). They want to see how you perform when you are completely knackered and your body resistance and speed are severely tested.”
The culmination of that eight months of training is the final thirty mile trek (‘yomp’ in commando language) across Dartmoor with a heavy kit and in a time under eight hours. That sorts out the men from the boys and surprisingly very few recruits fail and many have completed the ‘yomp’ with all kind of bone fractures, running only on adrenalin and focused only on earning the coveted ‘green beret’ at the end of it all. It’s no secret that some have died trying – that is the nature of the beast.
“It was the best birthday present I ever had and I will never forget the moment which we all shared and celebrated. What a day that was… we set off at 5am at ten minute intervals and we had to follow a section commander who was navigating and we were basically chasing him to keep pace. We were in groups (syndicates) of ten and I think there were 49 in total.”
Every seven miles there was a checkpoint and they were hydrated and fed with the right ‘stuff’ in order to keep up energy levels. “They make you eat a banana and every two or three checkpoints they watch you closely and you have to eat a pasty before you’re allowed to continue. We were up at 4am to mentally prepare ourselves so food is essential at that point in the ‘yomp’.
Each one prepares in a different way; some have music on headphones others have rosaries and pray and all that’s basically to bring you up to the lowest standards of a trained commando. You are expected to improve on that throughout your career.” There is glamour and elitism attached to being a Royal Marine but let’s just remember the Sylvester Stallone line in ‘Rocky’.…’no pain no gain’… this is no picnic for the fainthearted and the friendship bonds that the ordeal creates will last a lifetime. That is the aim of the training.
Ryan is adamant that any of ‘the lads’ would give their life for him and “If I had to jump on a grenade for them I would”. That’s very profound thinking coming from a 19 year old! We can call it ‘the right stuff’ and be proud to have youngsters of that calibre looking out for each other and for us if push ever came to shove.
I wanted to know at this point where he would be drafted to after his summer break here and it turns out that it won’t be far from the sea which he loves. “I’ve been drafted to 42 Commando which is based in Plymouth and I’m lucky because it was my first choice. It’s what I always wanted to do. They go out on warships and they do all the amphibious stuff which I like. At the minute I have been doing all my driving license class training which basically qualifies me to drive lorries and other transport vehicles, so first they bring me up to that standard. I am a new ‘sprog’ and as (the new kid on the block) I have to prove myself to my new unit. I want to do as many courses as possible. After the first four years I will probably apply for a long service commission (22 years).”
Ryan is happy that so far these are the best career choices he’s ever made and he’s met so many people from all walks of life and he states “You have this huge bond with the lads after the amount of stuff they put you through.”
These are very compelling reasons to want to belong to an elite arm of the British Forces. However some things stick out in the memory especially “When you think back to being woken up by your corporals at 3 or 4am to do push-ups outside in the cold rain. This is a shared experience with the lads and it cements friendships.”
As we approach the end of our chat I have to ask the uncomfortable question from which answer Ryan doesn’t shrink. Commandos are a fighting unit and they get trained to fight and kill (or be killed). I wondered whether this aspect of being a commando ever bothered him.
“Sometimes when us lads get down in the dumps they tell you that it could be worse…you could be in posted to Afghanistan, being shot at by insurgents and it’s you or them. We get a lot of famous soldiers and marines mentoring us all the time and they want to know that you are there for the right reasons. There is a lot of support in that area.
Before I left for my training one of my dad’s friends here, it turned out was an ex-PTI in the Marines and he helped me out in my preps by going out for runs with me and filling me in with a lot of useful tips on how to prepare for being a commando. I’m so grateful for that and also some of the war veterans who also mentored us during our training.”
Finally I wanted to know if there was a chance that we would see him in Gibraltar as a serving marine on board warships or on ceremonial duty attachments… “Yes there is a very good chance and who knows it might even be on a ship that my brother Sean might be serving on, now that would be something.”
That would be a very proud day indeed for his parents and his granny Maureen especially, not to mention his many friends here and so, all that remains now is to hope to see that day come, because the Rock has always had strong ties with the Royal Marines – and long may that continue to be so. Now even more and that’s for certain.