Web series gets up close with the grit of elite troop aspirants

5-parter gives a peek into the gruelling selection process and the men's extraordinary capabilities

About 120 candidates showed up at the Special Forces Leadership School at Pasir Ris Camp in 2019 to take part in a gruelling two-week selection exercise.

Only a few of them passed the battery of tests for the Joint Special Forces Selection (JSFS) and even fewer will emerge as an elite special forces trooper after the eight-month Special Forces Qualification Course.

For the first time, a camera crew was allowed to film the JSFS for a five-part Web video series titled Uncommon Grit.

The first episode was released on April 28, and new episodes will be released every Thursday on the Ministry of Defence's Facebook, Instagram and YouTube pages.

Mr Mano Mahendran, 53, producer of the series, has been intrigued by the unit since he was a recruit doing national service.

But he said the idea for a series about it came in 2009, when he first saw the Special Operations Task Force (SOTF) up close during the annual multi-agency Exercise Northstar training exercise, which he was tasked to film.

"Up until then, I had only seen them from afar, so I wanted to get up close and know the real people behind their extraordinary capabilities and get answers to that perennial (question) - why they do what they do."

Mr Mahendran, who also produced two 2018 Web video series on strenuous training in the Naval Diving Unit and Guards military formation, said the short time span made filming a challenge. "There were no rehearsals or do-overs, and my team had to react and adapt quickly on the ground when things changed unexpectedly."

Asked what he has learnt about the SOTF from the project, he said he was struck by how humble, yet quietly confident, the soldiers were.

He said: "But at the same time you know that with a flick of a switch, they will become the soldiers they have been trained to be."

The senior video content producer at So Drama! Entertainment added: "It may be a small unit but it is about one soldier having the ability to do the job of a few, much like a force multiplier."

He described the bond between the soldiers to be "second to none".

"Most importantly, what really sets them apart is their level of motivation to do what they do," he said.

"Even the dropouts were not discouraged, though they were disappointed. In fact, they told me they would try harder and come back again and for however long it takes to be part of this special fraternity."

As for why he chose to document the selection exercise, which was much shorter than subsequent training, he said the exercise was a small but very significant part of "the overall scheme of things".

"We were considering producing a series on the Special Forces Qualification Course initially," he said.

"But having gone through the training programme for the JSFS, we felt there was sufficiently strong content in there for viewers to have a glimpse of the entry point into the SOTF."

He added: "The unit hopes that by demystifying the selection process through the JSFS series, it will encourage more people to step forward and see how far it will take them."

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 14, 2022, with the headline Web series gets up close with the grit of elite troop aspirants. Subscribe