It’s time to go back to my military training.
As you know I made a decision to apply to the British Special Forces a few years back.
At the time it seemed sensible that I should get as much preparation as possible.
I’d already started going through the induction process with 21SAS and I felt I should absolutely get a taste of something military before I headed off into the unknown.
The friend I turned to immediately was Zurab.
He was born and raised in formerly war-torn Georgia – which with a population of <4 million people has one of the highest rates of military conscription in the world amongst men.
What this meant is that Zurab knew several people and had friends who were in the military and still active.
At this time my life, 2014, was an absolutely new world for me.
I asked Zurab “do you know anyone who can train me – and give me a taste of what it’s like to be in the special forces?”
After asking me incredulously why I wanted to do this and talking it through with me it became pretty clear to him I was determined to walk this road, Zurab started reaching out to his network.
After he made a few calls and there had been some back and forth – he told me he had been able to connect with a guy who could train me; Davit.
Of course, the idea of a British Indian called Deepak Shukla wanting to up and leave for Georgia to go and engage in a private military training programme raised some questions. And eyebrows.
Thankfully Zurab had known me for 7 years so could vouch for me on this front, that indeed I had no plans to join enemy forces and defect to ISIS or some-such similar organisation.
The 2nd layer of questioning, of course, was my physical readiness. On paper, I had some high-level relevant background (from the ultras, marathons, ironmen and Thai kickboxing I’d done) training.
As I’d later discover, of course, my background meant sh*t.
Then there was the mental side.
Why in the hell do I want to do this?
Zurab was able to successfully answer all of these questions on my behalf (I had no idea he had done this for me until later down the line).
I personally, of course, would face all of these questions time and time again over the next few years as I went through the process.
Questions were asked, Zurab gave answers and then all of a sudden I was connected with Davit via Facebook and then Skype.
His profile revealed that he didn’t want to be identified and there was nothing personal about his account at all.
In fact, it seemed to pay homage to war, guns and violence.
I reached out to him as I’d been instructed. I’m obviously a very public person :p. So he knew lots about me. But I knew nothing about him.
And so it began.
He immediately sent me a US Army Survival Manual which was scary within itself – and this is how our conversation began.
After I’d passed the initial interview phase with Zurab (as he needed to vouch for me); and then with Davit, (as he needed to be sure I was actually worth/the right man to train) preparations started.
With Zurab we had already agreed, after some discussion, that a 10-day training programme whilst I was holed up alone in Tbilisi was ideal.
Davit would decide the particulars of the programme itself after doing some reading up on the 22 application process alongside his own extensive military experience.
He was preparing me for hell.
And in parallel, I was going to do my best to prepare myself.
As I had with many of my previous endeavours, I turned to what I knew best when it came to preparing for something I’d never done before – I started reading.
This comprised a manual that Davit wanted me to read:
I immediately bought it of course:
This was a 623-page monster that contained densely packed information about surviving in different environments.
In hindsight, it would have been better if I’d read up more extensively on the entire application process and had been clearer with Davit about what I actually needed.
The book above was better for someone well into their training rather than someone who hadn’t even gotten his feet wet.
But hey – you don’t know what you don’t know.
So alongside the practical endeavours, there were also other documents I prepared that might help Davit understand what I needed to do:
I sent this document to Davit which was a 4-page fluff piece that I thought constituted great insights that he should know.
Understanding my mental strength was something that was critically important to Davit and as I would later find out…what I thought made me ready in no way made me ready at all.
In hindsight – everything that could be a liability with this type of preparation was playing out underneath our noses.
We’d never met each other; he hadn’t had any UK military experience; he had more familiarity with US preparation, and we had never had longer than a 15-minute Skype chat.
On my side, I’d acted emotionally rather than logically and spoke to my friend who’d naturally contacted Georgian army personnel.
It made 1000% more sense to find a British ex-special forces person located in the UK who could take me out to the Brecon Beacons, for swims, runs and other similar training.
Hindsight is a funny thing :p
And so the preparations continued and I bought a couple more books (as above) to help school me some more:
I got through all of them over the course of several weeks.
In parallel with this I began assembling a kit list to prepare for these 10 days of hell:
All of this would be shared and exchanged with Davit via Facebook messenger chat as I began to buy pieces of kit from Amazon and several other places.
Davit would advise me as he thought of things or as I bought things:
At the same time, I was (if you recall) going through my 4 marathons in 4 weeks’ journey and keeping Davit up to date with all that I was working on.
As time passed and we got closer to the day I was going to be flying out my nerves only increased.
And the questions began to get stranger:
I thought ah ok – it’s because I need to keep my energy levels at a peak and being single this wasn’t a problem, so I did as I was told.
The whole thing was such a strange experience for me – preparing for a 10-day private military training programme in July 2015 that I could not in any way really prepare for.
I knew no one from a military background so had absolutely zero points of reference.
But soon enough the day loomed and our conversations went something a little like this:
With this – so would begin a fateful adventure that would involve killing an animal, being shot at, crying myself to sleep, cutting feet, cutting hands; fearing for my life, murder in my family…
And an experience that was about to change my life forever.