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Guard of Honor puts best foot forward to commemorate return

By Willa Wu | China Daily | Updated: 2017-06-21 07:28

It is 11 am. The sun is blazing. Waves of heat lick the cement ground, causing images to waver from afar. It is quiet. Even the grass planted on both sides of the parade ground is still, as if too hot to move.

A troop of 210 soldiers, clad in green uniforms and caps, stands tall in the middle of the parade ground. Their left legs, straight with toes pointed, are lifted at a fixed angle. Sweat, running in rivulets, rolls down their foreheads, cheeks, necks and disappears under their collars to reappear on their uniforms, front and back.

These soldiers are the Guard of Honor of the People's Liberation Army Hong Kong Garrison.

They are practicing posture training, a routine drill that requires lifting the leg to a certain height and angle; when it touches the ground, a stride of 75 centimeters. When seen from the side, all the legs are lifted in a level line.

"Being neat and orderly is everything to the honor guards. They are the face of the PLA," said Han Yimeng, acting head of the Guard of Honor at the PLA's Hong Kong Garrison.

Han, who has been in charge of drilling honor guards in Hong Kong for seven years, said the major focus of the training lies in appearance and spirit: "The honor guards should present themselves in high spirits with synchronized movements."

Established in 1952, the PLA Guard of Honor is primarily responsible for ceremonial and protocol missions, having long been praised for their elevated spirits and the precision of their drills.

The Hong Kong detachment, which was formed in 1997 with soldiers selected from the PLA Guard of Honor, has carried on the fine tradition, Han said, adding that his troops have won the hearts of the people of Hong Kong people through more than 150 ceremonial missions in the past 20 years.

"I still remember the faces of the Hong Kong people when they saw us parade during the 15th handover anniversary in 2012. I could tell from their expressions that they admired us and felt so proud," Han said.

"Now we will have female guards in the formation."

The first batch of 13 female PLA Guard of Honor soldiers made their debut in Beijing, at a welcoming ceremony for the President of Turkmenistan, Gurbanguly Berdymuhamedov, when he visited China in May 2014.

Previously, female PLA soldiers were usually assigned to noncombat units, such as communications and artistic troops. However, in recent years, more have joined combat units such as fighter jet squadrons and the Special Forces.

Wang Jinyu, from Hunan province, was one of the new recruits when the PLA Hong Kong Garrison started to train the female guards in February last year.

"To be honest, the drills are painful and tiring," the 25-year-old soldier said, knitting her brows. She recalled training to hoist the 3.75-kilogram bayonet rifle to her shoulder while marching: "The gun is too heavy to be lifted easily by female honor guards. And it is even harder to do it in just 3 seconds with your legs still moving."

She cried several times after failed attempts. "Not because of the painful drills, but because I felt anxious and discouraged at not mastering the skills," she said.

But she did not stop trying. "When I was low in spirits, I watched documentaries about the Guard of Honor. My blood was stirred every time I saw the Guard of Honor marching. I said to myself, 'Look, you are one of them'," she said.

She succeeded, and enjoyed the unexpected bonus of being named as the squad leader.

A popular saying in the squad is that every year an honor guard "exudes a ton of sweat, wears out seven pair of shoes and walks 8,000 kilometers in training".

In addition to training to ensure that every movement is neat and orderly, the honor guards are also required to adopt a standard posture. Han introduced several techniques he uses to correct soldiers' posture: a playing card is put between the knees to make the soldier stand upright; sharp pins are attached to the collar of the uniform to prevent the neck tipping to one side; and a cross is tied on a soldier's back to prevent a hunchbacked posture.

Even the expression in the eyes is included in the training. "The honor guards should have bright, piercing eyes. And the eyes should remain open, only blinking about every 40 seconds." A normal person blinks every five to 10 seconds.

"The Guard of Honor in Hong Kong Garrison is different from those in Beijing. Here in Hong Kong, my troops are a force that can march neatly on ceremonial tasks but also fight like any other army force," Han said.

In addition to movement training, the Guard of Honor also undertakes physical training every day. At 6 am every day, two hours before their routine movement training, the guards undertake 90 minutes of drills to maintain and improve their strength and power - a 5-kilometer run, pushups, situps and other exercises.

"I hope the Hong Kong people will feel proud when they see us march. I also hope they will feel safe when they think about being protected by us - a mighty force and a civilized force," Han said.


The Guard of Honor of the People's Liberation Army Hong Kong Garrison march at a flag-raising ceremony during an open day last year.

(China Daily 06/21/2017 page6)

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