Five years ago, Xue Xiaoming, a soldier in the People's Armed Police (PAP), was admitted into a mystic complex in Beijing's suburbs, which was known to only a few as the training base of the security unit of People's Liberation Army (PLA) for the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games.
The trainees of this course, like Xue, had been put through a process of interviews, physical and psychological tests and even an academic examination and been selected on a 1:10 ratio before entering the complex.
Their five-year harsh training program has prepared members of this special unit to deal with terrorist attacks, riot control, hijacking, and bombs, among other things. The training will last until the opening of the Beijing Olympics on August 8. The average age of this force is 24 years old.
Last August, this special unit participated in a Sino-Russian joint antiterrorism exercise under its name, the Snow Leopard Commando Unit (SLCU). Before this joint exercise, the special unit had been known as the Snow Wolf Commando Unit (SWCU). The name of snow wolf was chosen due to the known tenacity of arctic wolves and their ability to survive and thrive in extremely harsh conditions, which is expected of the SWCU officers.
Explaining the renaming of SLCU, Qu Liangfeng, a senior PAP officer in charge of the daily operations of SLCU said the new name was inspired by the story of a brave and cunning snow leopard, which escaped an ambush by a hunter and his eight hunting dogs.
Every SLCU soldier is required to be a superman in strength, stamina, fighting skills and to show a spirit of self-sacrifice. SLCU soldiers are also trained to use hi-tech equipment.
"We have mastered all the tricks of James Bond, and we are also apt at every trick Bond never played," one SLCU soldier jokingly said.
Each SLCU warrior is estimated to be outfitted with 300,000 yuan ($41,100) worth of equipment, including their body armor and communications equipment. Some SLCU equipment is state-of-the-art imports, which was earlier exhibited to the public in Beijing.
Ma Zhenchuan, head of the coordination group for security of the Beijing Olympic Games, said all the personnel training and equipment upgrades will ensure a successful Olympics.
Except for the reporting at the key simulations during the Sino-Russian joint exercise, the SLCU has tried to evade publicity due to the highly classified nature of their operations. So far, the only training session open to the media took place at their training court, which has miniatures of all the key tourism spots in Beijing, including the Beijing Olympic Press Center and many landmark buildings in the central Wangfujing pedestrian street.
In this exercise in 2006, dozens of SLCU members, in all-black clothing, including helmets, masks and sunglasses, gunned down "terrorists" from different directions while standing up, kneeling on the ground or lying down. Not a single bullet missed its target. Each soldier shot down six targets 25 meters away in 18 seconds.
One stunt performed by the squad was to land from a helicopter revving 50 meters above the group from a swaying string in three seconds.
The SLCU has already fulfilled almost 100 safeguarding and escorting tasks in recent years. Liu Chengdu was one of six SLCU members sent to Afghanistan on a one-year mission to guard the Chinese embassy. "Every time we escorted the ambassador out of the embassy we would push a cartridge into the chamber and get ready to shoot at any time," Liu said. "We were also ready to protect Chinese diplomats from bullets with our own bodies."
During the five years before the Olympics, the courses included arduous physical training, vehicle driving lessons for various vehicles and weapons training. In every antiterrorism drill, a small error by one team member meant that the whole drill would be repeated from the very beginning.
A team of 30 snipers, selected from ace shooters in the Beijing police force, has been trained to cooperate with the SLCU to deal with terrorist attacks, protect delegates and enforce law and order during the 2008 Beijing Olympics. The team was formed in August 2005.
These Olympic snipers will be stationed around Beijing during the Olympic Games. During a 25-meter shooting test, all the snipers scored at least 48 rings out of 50.
"I hope that I will never have the chance to fire a bullet during the Beijing Olympics," said a sniper, who refused to reveal his name. This feeling was shared by other SLCU members, who said that security would be most successful if no one noticed it.
The top notch fighters believe that the delicate preparation of security guard services for the Olympic Games will probably give them few, if any, opportunities to show their abilities. The security outline of the Olympics, consisting of 52 sets of general plans and over 500 implementation measures, is still under improvement.