U.S. Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis didn’t get the usual pomp and circumstance when he traveled to Indonesia. Instead of a “dress-right-dress” style parade, he was met with soldiers shooting balloons from between one another’s legs, rolling in broken glass, and slashing a cucumber from the mouth of another soldier — just to name a few. They drank the blood of snakes and conducted flying elbows at walls of flaming bricks, all to the sound of beating drums in the background.

Indonesia has the largest Muslim population in world, and Mattis has been trying to increase U.S.-Indonesia relations there. As ISIS’s presence wanes in the Middle East, they are constantly looking for footholds in Southeast Asia. Indonesian Gen. Gatot Nurmantyo told Reuters that there are ISIS sleeper cells in the majority of provinces in the country.

This is clearly just an exciting, impressing display made to entertain Mattis and those watching the video. Few people obviously expect Indonesian soldiers to one day need to elbow their way through flaming bricks or to be required to roll in broken glass. It was a show, and there is no doubt that it was an entertaining one.

This is far from the first video shown online to showcase the “badass” nature of some Special Operations unit from a foreign country. These videos show people doing backflips while throwing tomahawks, or tossing throwing knives and stars while running. It is similar to the final show during Ranger School graduation, where soldiers rapidly descend down a large wall in the Australian rappel, shooting their M4s all the way down.

But that’s just what they are … shows. They are indicative of someone, or some unit, who spends more time practicing that one obscure talent — like flipping and throwing a blade — over time spent training in practical, tactical skills.

So why don’t they show that? It’s not all that entertaining. Nobody wants to watch soldiers conduct ready-ups for two hours. The time spent learning how to Australian rappel could be spent practicing glass houses, running through a shoot house or learning to drive a new type of vehicle.

One of the best indicators of the training a unit is willing to do is their medical expertise. From their most junior enlisted to their most senior officers, do they practice putting on a tourniquet and packing a wound? Keeping up the most basic, perishable skills is fundamental in being a part of an elite force. It’s not sexy, it’s not show-worthy, but it’s absolutely necessary. Many less elite forces get bored with training the fundamentals, often not realizing that that is a key factor in making forces elite. It’s not the only factor, but it’s a major one.

The more complicated stuff — building and blowing explosives charges (where the smallest charge possible is ideal), assaulting complex urban objectives, coordinating all sorts of assets while excelling at basic combat principles — also don’t make for a very good show.

However, for the sake of Jim “Mad Dog” Mattis as he visits Indonesia and surveys their military, I’m sure he was both impressed and entertained, just as I would have been. If that was the objective, then they accomplished their mission … and at the end of the day, that’s all any soldier sets out to do: accomplish the tasks set before them.


Featured image courtesy of the Associated Press.