• Try to imagine thick rainforest vegetation, gloom light, incredible humidity, occasional rain showers, insect raids, poisonous vermin like snakes, frogs, spiders or caterpillars. All completed with bad visibility meaning worse orientation. That is the picture of French Guiana, where two of the University of Defence students – sergeant first class Michal Popovyc and staff sergeant Adam Weisser, both Commandos club members – attended a demanding survival course lead by experienced French instructors.
The third infantry regiment of the Foreign Legion stationed in Kourou. The legionary regiment have appointed instructors for the Training Center in the Rainforest (CEFE) based directly in the Amazon forest close to Regina town setting out from there for challenging field training. There, the course attendants spent the ten first days after their arrival, taking intensive training before the four-day marathon through the rainforest begins.
"We began the mission by physical tests on the very first day in the base. The tests showed each attendant's physical abilities. Then, we were briefed of how to pack correctly the rucksacks for jungle and how to behave in jungle. We got information of local flora and fauna and could see examples in a small ZOO where most local animal species live, such as jaguar, anaconda or spiders," says staff sergeant Adam Weisser.
The jungle welcomed our students with omnipresent wetness, sometimes hunger or thirst. However, the imminent danger was insects as mosquitos are the malaria transmitters. Other dangers awaited them in the forms of biting by snakes or spiders, stings of scorpions or touch of poisonous frogs. "You don't think of danger after few days and concentrate only on training," explains Adam Weisser.
Training focused on learning and practicing the skills necessary to survive in the inhospitable environment. There is a reason why the well-known Devil's Island is a part of the Guianas. "In the course we learnt to identify trees, plants, what you can eat in the jungle, how to make a trap, what to mind, what you can produce from local natural materials, how to make fire and construct a shelter in the rainforest and, of course, how to find the way in the forest," specifies staff sergeant Weisser.
The course trainees under a permanent watch of the instructors repeat their attempts of passing through the feared system of four obstacle courses built in the jungle, representing the topping of the legionnaire cake. Piste Pecari (pigs track) consists of an obstacle system going across a muddy distributary used to train the soldiers in getting over and under the obstacles, balancing, climbing, jumping, diving and swimming. Piste Liane has the nickname of "monkey track" among the trainees. It consists mostly of ropes, nets, trees and wooden structures. It focuses on climbing, hand over hand moving, jumping and balancing. That same track turned the destiny for sergeant first class Michal Popovyc, who suffered an injury that prevented him from further course training.
The longest time, mostly more than two hours, requires the Piste Jaguar. Trainees form ten-member teams for the track as the cooperation of all ten is necessary for successfully crossing the obstacles on the track consisting again of mud, trees and a giant plain wall. The last test is evacuation of an "injured" person by a team of at least seven persons across the Piste Brancardage. The injured model is as tight as possible bound to a long log and the team moves it over mud and high elevation.
Endless marching through the rainforest and obstacles in water, in mud or in treetops are the least favoured parts of the survival course as you are permanently wet and dirty with mud. The only chance for you to have dry clothes at night is to carry them in a sealed barrel. The humidity in rainforest reaches up to 98 per cent.
The challenging course culminated in a four-day mission with one main goal: survive. Before the survival began, an experienced native Indian who works for the local Foreign Legion base instructed the trainees. He showed them what fruit they can eat and what to make from them, how to get food hunting, how to make fish and animal traps. "We could taste grilled meat from cayman, South American pig or parrot," says Adam Weisser.
"At the end of the course we faced four days to survive and had nothing except camouflage uniforms less t-shirts, boots less laces, head torches, field flasks, machetes, head mosquito nets, compasses and whistles. In addition, each team had a lighter and a shotgun to hunt game. During the mission, we completed tasks given one by one by the instructors, such as build a shelter, make fish and game traps, make fire and construct a raft that we had to use leaving the mission area. All we could use for the tasks was of natural origin. Our group managed to catch only three small fish and a feet-size frog within the mission time. We ate only rainforest fruit," says staff sergeant Weisser and completes the course information. "We left the unhospitable rainforest on the raft to face a day of individual tasks. The tasks included jump to a river from a bridge 12 metres high, plants identification, knot time trial, making traps, rainforest orienteering race and individual obstacle tracks. Due to the lack of food we missed energy which made the tasks even more challenging."
The trainees spent the last day in the base but instead of having a rest they were to ford a river in teams, go for an orienteering march and pass the Piste Brancardage again. Adam Weisser and the École Spéciale Militaire de Saint-Cyr cadets who completed the course thus passed the final test. Now, they can wear the jaguar patch for the French Guiana course on their uniforms. Also, they can remember the sensation of relieve, happiness and victory that overwhelmed all who had completed the challenging course. The instructors ranked staff sergeant Adam Weisser third in his platoon.
Immediately after their return from South America to Brno, both of the students faced difficult state exams. Sergeant first class Michal Popovyc succeeded at the final state exams to complete the Master's degree programme studies while staff sergeant Adam Weisser passed the combined state exam in "Management", "Economics" and "Defence and Security Economics" to complete the fourth year of the Master's degree studies.
Text: Pavel Pazdera, photo: Adam Weisser's archive and CMM