Last Monday's Chinese-language Apple Daily report that the Marines' Amphibious Reconnaissance and Patrol Unit (ARPU) recruits were asked to smear themselves with excrement during training drew criticism, but a retired petty officer from the Navy's Underwater Demolition Unit (UDU) said the training is necessary.
"What is more important in war? To keep yourself alive or to be captured by your enemy?" said the former officer, who wished to remain anonymous.
The ex-frogman confirmed that such training existed when he was serving with the UDU.
Marine spokesman Wen Chen-kuo (文振國) also confirmed the training had existed but said that the "excrement training" was suspended in 2001.
"We began to recruit women in 2001 and that training was terminated at the same time," Wen said.
Wen said that Marine officers would now ask rookies to crawl in sewage drains instead of applying excrement to their bodies. He also said there was a "hell week" during their three-week training.
Wen said that during hell week trainees have less than seven hours sleep in a seven-day period while instructors ordered all kinds of physical training. On the last day of hell week every trainee has to crawl back and forth on a 15m long "heaven boulevard," which is covered by different kinds of coral.
"Everybody is bleeding after finishing heaven boulevard but only those who finish it can become an ARPU member," Wen said.
The former first class petty officer was in the UDU during his compulsory military service 10 years ago. After he left the UDU, he got his first civilian job as a lifeguard at a swimming pool.
"Every UDU member is a qualified lifeguard with a certificate. It was easy for me to get a job as a lifeguard," he said.
A few years later, he became a body guard, which paid much better. Now he is working as a computer technician in Taipei.
"I needed money. My boss hired me immediately when he realized that I was a UDU member," he said.
Commenting on the Apple Daily story, the former serviceman said that the excrement training was necessary because the training course was designed to train a soldier to survive all kinds of humiliation and torture by the enemy.
"What I went through at the UDU has made me fear nothing, either mentally or physically," he said. "Now, whenever my coworkers complain in the office, what makes them complain does not bother me, if I compare the frustration of office life with what I went through at the UDU."
The UDU included the Underwater Demolition Team (UDT) and the Explosives Ordnance Disposal team (EOD). On Jan. 1, 2005, the UDT was merged with the Marines' ARPU and the EOD was merged with the Navy's Underwater Operation Unit.
In addition to their military assignments, special forces are also in charge of anti-terrorism, airport security enforcement and search-and-rescue activities.
Wen said that it is quite possible the special forces may face a manpower shortage within the next year.
"The government's policy is to replace conscripts with professional soldiers. But today's young men would not accept the challenges and tough training of the special forces. We worry we may not be able to recruit soldiers in the future," Wen said.
Wen said there are currently only 300 qualified members of the ARPU. More than 60 percent of ARPU recruits are disqualified during the arduous training course, he said.