In part one of this series, we established that the majority of the Swiss SOF community is made up of militia personnel. This means those soldiers are actually civilian professionals such as doctors, bankers, or farmers, and serve their country for a limited amount of time each year.

The militia system

In Switzerland, male citizens between the ages 17-26 are required to serve their country for a specific amount of time. While most choose to perform their mandatory service spread out over a number of years, with an initial six-month stint followed by a couple of weeks each subsequent year, it is sometimes also possible to serve the entire length in one go, resulting in a total of almost one year of continuous service. It is common for Swiss citizens to enter the service early on in their lives, usually after graduating high school or finishing an apprenticeship. Despite being able to commence mandatory service at the age of 26, it is extremely rare to find recruits who are older than 21 years.

Following a two-day recruitment phase, depending on their test scores, young recruits are assigned to a specific base where they perform their first six months of mandatory service while receiving basic and advanced training. Depending on their function, recruits sometimes have the option to attend their basic training at a base located close to where they live. This is an extremely appealing option for most recruits, as they are typically allowed to go home for weekends, and a shorter commute usually means a longer weekend before heading back to base each Sunday evening. However, in true SOF fashion where everything has to suck, SOF recruits can only be stationed at one base—located in the southern part of Switzerland, in the heart of the Alps, at the end of a remote valley. This obviously makes the commute home an exhaustive undertaking for the majority of SOF recruits who don’t live in that area.

Nevertheless, if you plan on visiting Switzerland on a weekend, and do so by pubic transport, you will be completely overwhelmed by the sheer amount of soldiers commuting to or from their base, sometimes with their rifle strapped to their backs. During the periods where Swiss citizens perform their mandatory service, all soldiers in uniform are eligible to use public transport for free, and most use this opportunity even if it means sitting on a train for four hours to travel home for the weekend. Soldiers are typically allowed to go home from early morning Saturday until Sunday evening.

Swiss recruits heading to/from their base on a weekend

Because there is only one base for SOF recruits, its candidates come from all over the country and are put together into one company. They speak French, German, and Italian. Even though Switzerland has four official languages, Romansh is becoming an increasingly rare spoken language, and those who do speak it also know either German or Italian. While some recruits use the opportunity to brush up on another national language by integrating themselves in a French-speaking platoon, for example, the urge to compete against another language group always persists.

Apart from the mostly healthy competition between language groups, the multilingual nature of Switzerland’s military often creates confusion when communicating on radios or SATCOMs. While such issues are negligible in the repetitive and unrealistically rehearsed training exercises, such problems could be extremely treacherous in real life missions.

After serving the initial six months, the soldiers return home with all their gear, put their rifle in their closet, hang up their uniform, and get back to their civilian jobs. To remain proficient at their military duties, they will be recalled each year for a repetition course of 3-4 weeks until they have served the mandatory time required by their rank and function.

Special Forces Training Center (SFTC)

Switzerland’s Special Forces Training Center (Ausbildungszentrum Spezialkräfte – AZ SK) is part of the Special Forces Command (SFC) and consists of various schools and courses for eligible members of the Swiss Armed Forces. Similar to the U.S. Army’s JFK Special Warfare Center and School, the SFTC provides entry-level as well as advanced training and education.