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China's new special forces marching into view
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China's young and mysterious special forces are likely to grab plenty of attention on Oct 1 when they march in a military parade for the first time.

The elite troops, drawn for the assignment from the ranks of the Beijing Military Command Area, are currently completing intensive training at a parade village in Shahe, in northern Beijing, ahead of their first appearance - at the National Day parade celebrating the 60th anniversary of the founding of New China.

Soldiers from the special forces exercise for National Day parade on August 7, 2009. [Xinhua]

Photo taken on August 7, 2009 shows soldiers from the special forces exercising for the National Day parade. [Xinhua]

"This will be the first time we have attended such a parade," said Zhao Zemin, the square commissar. "We're honored to be taking part, but the practice has been difficult."

China's special forces, which were established in the 1980s, are among the newest branches in the People's Liberation Army (PLA).

The highly trained team is usually used for specialized operations where the risks are high, such as reconnaissance work, unconventional warfare, direct action and counterterrorism operations.

Ever since the force was founded, its members have kept relatively low key and, so far, representatives have not appeared in public at any of China's military parades, including the massive event in 1999 held to mark the People's Republic of China's 50th birthday.

Zhao said preparation for the Oct 1 parade had been particularly hard on the soldiers of the special forces because its members have focused in the past on tactical training and on handling emergencies but not on parade-ground training.

"One is dynamic, and the other is static. It's just like asking vigorous young men to do embroidery," he said.

Liang Pengju, a soldier who will be taking part in the parade, said he had received very little formation drill training before entering the village for the intensive practice.

He said soldiers from the special forces are accustomed to being very flexible and to walking with their toes pointing outwards, to minimize the sound of their footsteps.

"A special forces soldier's body is usually in the shape of a bow," Liang said. "That's why, in formation drills, we always have problems with our heads, feet and upper bodies."

However, Zhao said another aspect of the special forces is the indomitable will of the team, and that persistence of spirit is ensuring everyone works hard at the training sessions.

Lei Haibing, a member of the team and also a drillmaster, rarely goes to bed before midnight. In addition to taking part in the training, he spends long hours planning the training for the next day.

"Although we're not familiar with formation drills, we're now a part of the parade and we will make sure we do everything that is required of us," he said.

Liu Wenhu, another member of the team, said he has worn out seven pairs of military boots and 15 pairs of shoe-pads within five months since he practiced his marching.

"We represent all special soldiers in the army," he said. "We cannot fail, and we will not fail."

(China Daily September 8, 2009)

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