The main job of a solider isn’t peacekeeping, building new roads and schools, or shoveling snow in Toronto.
A solider’s foremost task is to kill and that’s exactly what Jake Olafsen signed up for when he joined the Royal Marines.
“I figured joining the Corps was a sure bet to get some trigger time, and I was not wrong,” Olafsen writes in his new book, “Wearing the Green Beret: A Canadian with the Royal Marine Commandos.”
Olafsen was raised on northern Vancouver Island and lived in the Comox Valley when he left Canada at age 24 to become a Royal Marine commando.
What followed was a grueling eight-month training period and then two tours of Afghanistan.
The chapters on the training regiment are the far most interesting parts of the book and provide a modern parallel to the fictional film “Full Metal Jacket.” In that movie, director Stanley Kubrick delights in showing how American Marine recruits, preparing to go to Vietnam, are physically and emotionally beaten down by a sadistic, no-nonsense drill sergeant.
After reading Olafsen’s account of the training rituals in wet and cold England, it seems little has changed.
The recruits – known as “nods” because they rarely get adequate sleep – are routinely pushed past their physical limits and are broken down mentally until they fully embrace the marine’s unwritten philosophy: Smile in the face of adversity.
In one scene, Olafsen describes how the troop is “punished” for the screw-up of one team member:
“We crawled and dove and carried and sprinted for ages. It was a serious thrashing we were getting, and I damn well knew we hadn’t screwed up badly enough to deserve this. This was nothing personal: just part of the program.”
Fortunately for Olafsen, he excelled in training, earned his green beret and was promptly shipped to Afghanistan to fight the Taliban as a general purpose machine gunner. He served on a mortar crew during his second tour of duty.
Olafsen gleefully boasts of unleashing massive, modern firepower on the Taliban – he particularly enjoyed firing the grenade machine gun. But in spite of all their advantages, the Royal Marines and the rest of the United Nations forces, don’t ever gain much ground on the Taliban. Olafsen tells his story through a solider’s eyes. He’s well-trained, does as he’s told, kills with emotional detachment, and then heads off for a two-week beach holiday with his girlfriend.
This book will leave some readers wondering why we’re still in Afghanistan and what we’re trying to accomplish there, but, thankfully, Olafsen never gets into the political questions. After all, he is a good soldier.
“Wearing the Green Beret: A Canadian with the Royal Marine Commandos” published by McClelland & Stewart