Testing the best… in any field

The expression “the best” is of course rather presumptuous. But in this case it concerns individuals or organizations who on a daily base try hard to bring out the best in themselves and work hard to make a difference.
One of these organizations is the BBE, de Bijzondere Bijstands Eenheid Korps Mariniers, also known as the UIM, Unit Intervention Marines. They are the government’s last resource when dealing with terrorists, pirates, hijackers of train or airplanes, armed criminals or war criminals.
Due to their long and excellent track record this unit has an excellent reputation, also outside the Netherlands.
Myself, coming from a non-military background and not even having tasted military service (due to an Achilles-tendon rupture being an athlete) this world was completely foreign to me.
It is very interesting to see this unit at work, especially when looking through the eyes of a coach in elite sports. Here is a group of people who, identical to top athletes, has to deal with preparation and training, selection, performing under pressure, trust, teambuilding, motor learning, physical conditioning, and stress management.

They show a professional attitude almost unmatched in other professions, but not so strange if you keep their ultimate work conditions in mind; here a small hesitation or failure can lead to loss of life.Already a long time ago Georg Orwell wrote that we as civilians can sleep quietly every night because somewhere men like tthis unit make sure we can, they watch over us and protect us from violent trouble.
These dedicated operators are ready 24/7 to even risk their lives for us.
After a mentally and physically very demanding selection procedure the operators learn the whole spectrum of necessary drills that go with their work. In this aspect we can compare them with decathletes.
Of course this demands an excellent mental and physical fitness. The long, irregular and unpredictable work days (and nights), the learning of new drills and skills, the flawless handling of different weapon systems, the sharpening and consolidation of reflexes and routines, the maintenance or improvement of physical conditions, demand the ultimate from a human body and mind.
No wonder they find it useful to, on a regular base, test the operators with our testing equipment such as the Omegawave and the Procomp.

As with elite athletes or other “high-performers” also here the risk of mental and/or physical overload is always just around the corner.
There are not that many professions were small errors might make the difference between life and death. A moment of carelessness, of doubt, responding a tenth of second too late or in “the fog of war” just not doing what went so well in practice before, can lead to fatal results.
As a coach I was very surprised to learn that the conditions and facilities in which they have to train are far from optimal. In sports in the Netherlands we have the best facilities to facilitate optimal performances of our athletes like the Thialf speed skating stadium, the Tongelreep swim stadium, or our National Sports Centre in Papendal. For this unit the facilities and conditions in which they have to train and operate, are far below the facilities and conditions of comparable units like the SAS in the UK, the KSK in BRD, the Navy Seals and Delta Force in the US.   
This could have something to do with the declining economic situation and budget cuts at the Ministry of Defense, but also in the past this situation existed:  inadequate and strict rules and regulations which make this work impossible at times, the heavy burden of paperwork, slow decision-making processes and maybe the Dutch pacifistic nature.
This situation typically asks for a clear vision, powerful leadership and serious action, not for verbal support only or empty promises.
We happen to live in a world that changes rapidly, with more and more political, religious and military potentially violent situations. Combined with economic decline, growing dissatisfaction and frustration, declining trust in politics and politicians,  the threat of terrorist violence by loners or groups seems to get closer all the time, even if it is only in the perception of the people.

It could be that the operators of the BBE will have to act in their role of the last resort in cases like described above. Let’s not only hope, but also make sure they are optimally prepared to execute their tasks.

Video: BBE in action http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IcqZKBJMNhI

Artikel over de BBE: http://www.vortx.nl/wp-content/uploads/2012/10/Topsport-in-het-kwadraat.pdf

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