Staff Sgt. Oliver Salder earned his place as a Marine well before he stepped on the famed yellow foot prints at Marine Corps Recruit Depot Paris Island. So when recruit Salder piled off that bus in 2000 amidst terrified peers, this salty, rugby-playing Brit was probably more entertained than scared. Or maybe he was just glad it was only going to take him 13 weeks to graduate this time.
Salder, born in Bath, England, enlisted as a British Royal Marine at 16 – his parents agreed to sign his age waiver because they believed he would fail out of boot camp. Of 50 recruits, Salder was one of 28 to graduate the 8-month cycle, earning his title as a Royal Marine commando.
Salder took a train to Lympstone, Devon, for basic training and spent his first two weeks learning to wear and maintain his uniform, fold his clothes and shave like a Royal Marine. He spent the next 15 weeks learning basic infantry tactics. Salder also learned close quarters battle, how to swim like a Royal Marine and endured three-, four- and five-mile runs wearing about 30 pounds of gear.
“I think [Royal Marine training] was a little more physical than when I went to boot camp in the United States,” he said. “The only time we walked was uphill. Everywhere else we were running.”
U.S. Marine recruits speed walk while hiking with gear. Speed walking instead of running reduces the chance of injuries, teaches them to open their strides and helps reduce noise. When not on hikes, Marine drill instructors are marching recruits everywhere to teach close-order drill, emphasizing discipline and immediate obedience to orders.
After acclimatizing to military lifestyle and establishing some basic infantry skills, Salder and his crew moved on to the advanced portion of their basic training, which included night inserts and movements, larger-scale raids, urban combat training, crew-served weapons training, communications training, and survival and evasion training. Sleep deprivation and intense physical activity were, of course, part of all these exercises.
One of the things Salder remembers most was a three-day survival exercise that pitted him and his classmates against nature. To survive, Salder had to catch wildlife with snares and build shelters for protection. The only time he was given food was at the completion of the exercise.
“We were given a rabbit, a chicken and a fish, and then taught how to skin and use all three of them,” said Salder.
Killing, skinning and preparing live game is definitely outside the box of what happens in boot camp in the United States, explained Salder. Opening a meal ready to eat is the most work a U.S. recruit puts into getting a meal during basic training.
Survival skills for U.S. Marines are often reserved for advanced follow on training, such as Survival, Escape, Resistance and Evasion training, in the U.S military. Very few Marines get the chance to attend SERE training.
To graduate, every Royal Marine must complete the famed commando test, which is a four-day series of grueling exercises. The test includes a nine-mile speed march in 90 minutes, an endurance test, the Tarzan Assault Course and a 30-mile forced march carrying a full combat load. But the Royal Marine recruits are so well-conditioned by that point that the four-day test, although extremely demanding, is not impossible, explained Salder.
The test is comparable to the Crucible, a 54-hour test U.S. Marines endure at the end of basic training. Recruits face sleep and food deprivation while completing day and night marches, night infiltration exercises, resupply and casualty evacuation scenarios, several team-negotiation exercises and a 12-mile hike at the conclusion of the event.
After graduating Royal Marine training, Salder was sent to northern Scotland where he served in security forces. Later, he retrained as an anti-tank man and moved to Diego Garcia, a British territory in the Indian Ocean heavily populated by the U.S. military, where he served as a military customs officer. It was there Salder met his first wife and turned in his 18-month notice to the British government to leave duty as a Royal Marine. Royal Marines sign an open contract that obligates them to 22 years of service. However, they can submit an 18-month resignation notice after completing four years of service.
After leaving the Royal Marines, Salder and his wife moved to the states to be closer to his wife’s family. Salder found various jobs to support his family, often at restaurants, but hated them; his true passion was serving in the armed forces. With encouragement from his wife, Salder was ready to join the U.S. military.
“Of course there was no other choice than becoming a Marine again,” said Salder.
In April 1999, Salder began an arduous process of applying for permanent residency status. After months of waiting, he was able to start boot camp in January 2000. Salder says his boot camp experience was interesting because “every time something went wrong, it was ‘get on the quarter deck, and you can join them too, Brit’.”
Marine Corps drill instructors are famous for their ferocity and attention to detail. They are also often known by the Marines they train for their creativity and humor.
“There were a few different times that they actually made me take the guidon and run back and forth through the squad bay yelling the British national anthem, but it was all in good fun,” said Salder.
Although he had endured one of the toughest training regimes in the world in commando training, Salder said he encountered some challenges with the training at Parris Island.
“I hadn’t done anything that physical in years,” said Salder. “After I moved to the states I just enjoyed life.”
After graduating boot camp, Salder went to school to learn to serve as aircrew aboard KC-130 cargo aircraft; a surprising job choice for a man with an extensive infantry background. Presented with the choice of being a cook, admin, tank crew or finding a job in the wing, Salder decided to fly.
“My wife didn’t want me to be a grunt and there were only certain jobs open to me because of my status,” said Salder.
Salder quickly saw action after completing training. He deployed to Pakistan in 2002, to Iraq in 2003 and participated in disaster relief efforts during 2004 and 2005.
It was after these deployments that Salder turned in a reenlistment package late and had to lateral move to stay in the Marine Corps. He decided to move to the Osprey community. When asked why he didn’t move to the infantry, Salder just laughed with a wistful look in his eyes.
“My body is old and too broken now,” he said.
But it is easy to see that he misses his days on the ground. He lights up every time he talks about his infantry training and the time he spent serving as an infantryman. However, he also enjoys his time in the air, especially when he gets to spend time with 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing (Forward)’s U.K. counter parts here.
“They never believe me when I tell them I am British and I always have to pull out my driver license to prove it,” said Salder. “Then they start making the same jokes calling me a traitor.”
Since 3rd MAW partnered with the United Kingdom’s Joint Aviation Group in June, Salder says his roots have been useful for more than just making fast friends.
“I have to translate what the guys in the tower are saying for our pilots sometimes,” he said. “And at the coffee shops the Marines are always asking me ‘what the hell did that guy just say’.”
Salder, although admittedly biased, thinks the partnership is a good fit for both countries and is glad that we are working together to aid the Afghan people.
Salder’s service has spanned continents and more than half of his life time – but he says his trials and tribulations have been worth it. Royal Marine or U.S. Marine, Salder is just happy to serve.