August 2 is observed annually in Russia as Airborne Troops Day. Founded 87 years ago, the Russian airborne assault forces, also known as VDV, are considered to be one of the finest fighting forces in the country, their traditional blue berets and striped undershirts becoming an unofficial insignia of the best of the best of Russian Armed Forces.
As Anton Kuzmin, a lieutenant of the 106th Guards Airborne Division and deputy commander of a radio reconnaissance platoon, told RIA Novosti, the daily routine of an airborne forces serviceman hasn't change much during the last several decades.
"We wake up at 6 a.m., then there’s a morning assembly and exercises, followed by breakfast. The subsequent morning troop inspection is followed by training which lasts until lunch. After lunchtime we got one hour for personal activities, and then it’s time for personal physical training at the gym or at the outdoor training range," Kuzmin said, adding that his base’s facilities could easily rival those of an elite city gym.
However, other aspects of the airborne forces have drastically changed over the years, as a steady influx of advanced military equipment, weapons and improved kit gradually turned this branch of the Russian army into the deadly high-tech fighting force it is today.
"When I joined VDV, it was the last year that we were wearing those knee-high boots," Sgt. Alexei Kuzmin, also a serviceman of the 106th Division and member of a technical reconnaissance platoon, said. "First we were wearing the old ‘floral’ camos, then there were tons of various pixel camo patterns, until finally we got the uniform we wear today. It’s very comfortable, especially compared to those ‘transitional’ uniforms."
Only the most fit and mentally resilient men can become part of the elite airborne forces. Each prospective candidate must be able to perform at least 15 pull-ups, to perform a 100m dash in 13.5 seconds or less, and to cross a 3km distance in 14 minutes or less. Also, a candidate must be well-versed in weapon and military hardware use, as well as unarmed combat.
"We’re the recon forces, which means that regular training ranges are "too boring" for us. So we regularly conduct field training exercises in mountainous and woodland terrain, and sharpen our mountaineering skills. At least once a week we train at a shooting range, where each trooper has to fire about 150 rounds from AK assault rifle," Sgt. Kuzmin said.
Impromptu, mandatory marches are also a common and important element of an airborne recon specialists’ training.
"We had to jog 15 kilometers in full combat gear. I was also carrying an RPG, and each of us was also carrying an extra 5 kg of rocks in the backpack – that’s 12 kg in total. And we had to jog across mountainous terrain while carrying this load – a feat that not everyone could accomplish," he reminisced.
However, as Sgt. Kuzmin pointed out, the most important quality for a recon operator is experience.
"I know several recon veterans who aren’t as strong or as fast as their younger colleagues, but who could eat us for breakfast without blinking an eye because they’re more experienced. And you can only gain experience during a combat deployment," Sgt. Kuzmin explained, adding that he’s been deployed to conflict areas four times already.