Tier One is the designation for all Baltic Union citizens fit and trained to serve in the capacity of special forces. Although the term is a designation for a particular class of citizens rather than any branch or unit of the military, in casual usage among outsiders and Balts alike it has become eponymous to Baltic special forces themselves.
Tier One has their origins in the survivors of Baltic militaries in the immediate post-war era. Some of these survivors were special forces soldiers, whose expertise would later prove invaluable in training a new generation of elite soldiers who became known as Tier One operators.
Tier One as a distinct class of Baltic citizen-soldiers was established circa 2060 as the Colonels implemented the Tier system for the first time. In their early years, Tier Ones were less of a specially-trained commando elite, and more of a diverse assembly of capable and experienced fighters who routinely took part in reclamation expeditions and long-range resource raids. Overtime, this cadre of veteran warriors became more professionalized and formalized, eventually leading to the (re)formation of dedicated special forces units.
In proper use, "Tier One" designates a class of citizens with the highest degree of military preparation and fitness rather than any particular force or unit. In everyday speech, the term is also used to refer to the elite commando units of the Baltic Union, although in proper military parlance these units are referred to by their individual names.
Tier One commandos are without question the best-trained and equipped troops of the Baltic Union by far, armed with the very best and most modern equipment available. They are considered arguably the best special operators in the world, save for augmented supersoldiers of the great powers. The quality of Tier One troops is largely the product of rigorous selection from a pool of candidates with lifelong military training - if the average Baltic citizen is trained to the standards of professional soldiers of other nations, then a Tier One operator represents the top 0.1% of Baltic citizenry, the very best of the best.
Ideally, every military district is expected to be able to muster at least a platoon of Tier One operators, although in practice this is not always possible especially in the more sparsely-populated regions. For this reason, although special operators are formally organized into battalions centered in major settlements, in practice the men of these battalions are dispersed over large areas, maintaining their own independent bases of operations.
The following Tier One battalions are known to exist:
- Alpha Battalion - stationed in Riga and Central Latvia
- Sigma Battalion - stationed in Eastern Latvia
- Omega Battalion - stationed in Western Latvia
- Aitvaras Battalion - stationed in Southern Lithuania
- Žaliukai Battalion - stationed in Western Lithuania
- Vytautas the Great Jaeger Battalion - stationed in Vilnius and Eastern Lithuania
- Johan Laidoner Battalion - stationed in Eastern Estonia
- Konstantin Pats Battalion - stationed in Tallinn and Western Estonia
Although formally each battalion numbers around 500, only around 120 men of that number are actual combat operators. The rest fulfill support and administrative duties, although all of them have successfuly completed Tier One training at some point. The administrative jobs are usually assigned to older members whose age or injury prevents them from serving as combat operators, but who have accumulated intimate understanding of special operations and the unit's inner workings that only comes with age and experience. Various support duties are entrusted either to new members who haven't yet proven themselves fit to serve on the combat outfit, or to those possessed with specific skills and talents that would otherwise be wasted by putting them on a combat team. Support duties are very diverse, ranging from everyday maintenance of the unit's gear to intelligence gathering and coordinating operations between Tier One and regular army forces. The combat operators themselves agree that it is actually the support staff rather than them who are at the heart of every successful operation.
Every Tier One battalion is commanded by a Colonel. Somewhat uniquely for officers of that rank in the Baltic Union, colonels in command of Tier One units hold no political office and are in fact expected to stay out of politics for the duration of their service as special forces commanders. That is compensated by the fact that any officer, or indeed any current or former Tier One operator, is virtually guaranteed a fast track to promotions and political influence should he desire it.
The entirety of Tier One units are subordinate to Baltic Union Special Operations Command (BUSOC), itself answerable directly to the Council of Generals, and in wartime, to the High Marshal. By bypassing the normal chain of command that the regular army and the citizen militia are subject to, Tier One units gain greater operational flexibility, able to be deployed directly on missions of strategic importance without interference from the usual military bureaucracy and procedure.
Most Tier One troops are married men aged 25-45. With the official age for Tier Two service being 18, and five years of previous military service being required to be eligible, most candidates start their training at the age of 23, it taking two years to earn a full Tier One status. Marriage, preferably with children, or in the very least a formal engagement, is also required, as it is believed that family men have a greater incentive to do everything in their power to complete the mission and return home alive. In the event of an operator's death, it also ensures his no doubt valuable genetic stock isn't lost and his bloodline survives.
Women rarely become Tier One operators, both due to men being better suited physiologically to cope with the extreme rigors and stresses that the profession's specific lifestyle places on their bodies, and because of social expectations - a healthy woman at the peak of her reproductive age is much more valuable to society as a mother than a fighter. That being said, adventurous women joining and passing the necessary training and tests isn't unheard of, and women capable of making the cut are in fact highly sought after by combat teams due to the unique benefits that they present. A female soldier in the unit can, for example, be used to search female prisoners and civilians without causing unnecessary agitation, her different approach to problem-solving also often presenting unique and creative solutions to problems that would not have occurred to most men. While women who choose such a difficult and dangerous military career often do so because they have been pronounced unfit to become mothers (usually due to infertility and/or radiation exposure), many have entirely ordinary families with children. Although women are found more often in the non-combat arms of Tier One units, there are no formal restrictions or efforts to hinder their participation in combat outfits as well.
Those Tier Ones who live to the age of 45 must retire from combat service, being deemed past their prime, and most having attained senior officer ranks by that age in any case. They can rely on being preferred for promotion and public offices, and may continue their active military career as senior officers all the way until the compulsory retirement age of 65, or seek to assume a public office. Former Tier Ones are highly valued as politicians because of their perceived steadfastness, decisiveness and integrity as well as their tried and proven patriotism and commitment to the Union's cause.
Tier One units are primarily intended to act as a small-unit direct action, unconventional warfare and special reconnaissence force. Although primarily intended to operate on domestic soil in times of war, Tier One units are the only Baltic forces routinely authorized for cross-border deployments - usually clandestinely. They are also the only Baltic military force that may be deployed pre-emptively, to neutralize threats that are not imminent preventively. Needless to say, such operations take place in utmost secrecy because of their potentially-dire political implications, and the Baltic government will formally disavow any knowledge or affiliation with operatives captured abroad. In practice, however, their involvement in black operations abroad is an open secret, and given how the Union's traditional rival, the Mechanocracy of Russia, plays the same game, any captured operatives from both sides are usually quietly exchanged after some time.
In times of war, Tier One units are to spearhead the resistence movement, forming its core and serving as its direct action groups. Since the likeliest enemy of the Baltic Union, the Mechanocracy, has an overwhelming advantage in manpower, equipment and technology over the Balts, a disparity that they are keenly aware of, the Baltic military doctrine has been devised accordingly, the armed forces being designed to be easily-dispersible and concealable in preparation for a lengthy guerilla war after offering a token conventional resistence. As experts of unconventional warfare, Tier One fighters are therefore invaluable for this expected guerilla war phase.
Along with their usual tasks of reconaissence and sabotage, Tier One units are also expected to engage in psychological warfare, demoralizing the enemy by constant harassment. Popular methods to accomplish this include persistent assassination of officers so that those next in the chain of command are reluctant to take lead, constant sniper and IED attacks to keep the enemy constantly on the edge, extensive use of decoys, such as fake IEDs, to confuse the enemy and keep them stressed, introduction of tampered ammunition engineered to kill the operators into enemy supply chain to make the enemy question the safety of their own ordnance, and sneaking into enemy camps at night and leaving graffiti or other calling card as a sign that the enemy can't feel safe even in their own camps and bases.
Tier One operators are taught to exercise initiative and strike at targets of opportunity if chances present themselves. Larger operations, however, are meticulously planned and prepared, often months in advance. For a major op, Tier One fighters may spend several months gathering intel, infiltrating and awaiting an opportune moment before executing the plan in one fell swift strike and disappearing, the enemy often never even knowing what hit them until an investigation much later. Examples of such operations include cross-border raids and sabotage missions, where there is no margin for error and the chances to withdraw and survive a botched mission are very low.
Seeing how Baltic citizens are already trained extensively in the art of war by the time they reach adulthood, and that training is further cemented among those who are assigned to the prestigious Tier Two and continue to serve in the regular army, Tier One training moves immediately towards more advanced instruction. Since all candidates have already accumulated an extensive evaluation record going back to age 13, and those eligible for Tier One training have also served with the regular army for at least 5 years, the Tier One recruiters have a pretty good idea of who is likely to make the cut.
Tier One training consequently focuses more on psychological endurance, advanced small-unit tactics and specific skills pertaining to unconventional warfare than on regular combat skills and physical training.
The psychological conditioning phase, aptly known as Hell in the military circles, pushes the fears and phobias of the candidates to their limits. Candidates are subject to various tedious, exhausting, fearful or disgusting tasks, such as carrying sandbags to the point of complete exhaustion, crawling through claustrophobic smoke-filled tunnels blindfolded, hiding in latrine pits and inside decomposing animal carcasses, or finding their way out of a system of rapidly-flooding tunnels in complete darkness. A notoriously difficult task involves the candidates being thrown in a swimming pool with their arms and legs bound, kicking off the pool floor to come up for air being their only option to survive. Many begin to drown and are fished out and resuscitated by the instructors only to be thrown back in. Another dreaded task pits a candidate against a group of constantly rotating instructors in a free sparring, the goal being not to win the instructors, but to keep fighting for as long as one is physically capable to, i.e., until the candidate is knocked out cold. The purpose of these tasks is to weed out those who cannot push themselves to overcome overwhelming stress, pain, fear and disgust and complete whatever task is assigned. On top of that, the recruits are constantly deprived of sleep and kept on nutrition barely above survival level, a small amount of food or an hour of sleep being used as rewards for well-performed tasks, while failures are punished by denial of meals and extra exercise. Tasks are engineered to emphasize teamwork, precision and timing, and also to encourage creative out-of-the-box approach to problem-solving - something that the candidates have already been urged towards since very boot camp. The motto of all Baltic citizen-soldiers is "Fight smart", and nowhere is this more true than in Tier One units.
The candidates' stay in Hell culminates with an evasion training, the goal being to evade pursuers within a limited area for as long as possible. Being restricted to a certain area, the candidates inevitably end up captured sooner or later, and must then endure arguably the most unpleasant part of the Hell phase - resisting interrogation under torture. Each candidate is given a piece of information he must not divulge to the interrogators, and must resist attempts to extract it for at least 18 hours. The candidate is not informed of the required time, nor is interrogation stopped after expiration of 18 hours, but rather continued until the candidate either breaks or the medics supervising the exercise deem further interrogation an unacceptable health risk. The idea is to demonstrate that even the toughest men break eventually and to teach the candidates to accept that they too have a breaking point, their duty being only to stave off that breaking point beyond the limits of ordinary men. The interrogators are allowed to do absolutely anything to the candidates that will not result in permanent injury or disfigurement. The tortures that candidates are subject to range from threats, humiliation, exposure to temperature extremes and stress positions to beatings, electrocution, waterboarding, sexual violation with objects and driving wooden splinters under the fingernails. The only information candidates are allowed to give is their name, rank and ID number as per Geneva Conventions. Divulging any information other than that whatsoever constitutes an automatic failure, as the interrogators can then use it to further crack the candidate's resolve. Candidates often fail in this phase when the interrogators decide to use camaradery and guilt against their victims by questioning one candidate and torturing another in his stead for non-cooperation. Having gone through so much as comrades and furthermore coming from a martial culture that extols selflesness, otherwise successful candidates often crack at this point, the key lesson to be learned during this ordeal being that for a Tier One operator, the mission always comes first, before himself or even his comrades.
Those who drop out during Hell are relegated back to Tier Two and may re-apply for Tier One training a year later, but may not start from where they dropped out, having to undergo the whole set of ordeals again. Another failure permanently disqualifies one from Tier One training, but constitutes no shame or bad record, dropouts actually being valued in the regular army for their extra experience picked up during Hell. Those who pass Hell are in turn welcomed into the ranks of Tier One as having the necessary qualities for the job, but their training is far from over before they can join a combat team and righteously claim the coveted status of an operator. They are assigned to a battalion and spend the next two years training as specialists. Much of this time is spent mastering infiltration, marksmanship, CQC and various technical skills. This training phase culminates in an intense week-long exercise, where the aspiring candidates must put the entirety of their specialist skills, training and wits to the test. Customarily, the final task involves retrieving a container containing green berets - the mark of Tier One soldiers. Those who drop out during their specialist training phase are relegated to Tier One reserve, continuing their duties with the Tier Two regulars, but being eligible to reapply for Tier One specialist training after a year, there being no limit to reapplications this time.
After earning their berets, Tier One soldiers must usually spend at least another year in a support role before they are even considered for a permanent placement on the combat operator team. If their performance is satisfactory, they are finally placed on the permanent roster of a combat team and earn the title of Tier One operator. While the decision to assign someone to a unit normally falls with the unit's commanding officer in the regular army, Tier One units are very tightly knit and accustomed to see each other as family, so any new member of a combat team must customarily be accepted unanimously by all of it's members. In a long-respected tradition, the unit's commander introduces the potential new member to the team. The newcomer must then light a cigar, draw a smoke and pass it on to other men, who each do the same. Passing on the cigar without drawing a smoke signifies disapproval. Since the final decision rests with the commander, who is the last to draw smoke, disapproval by one or more members does not necessarily disqualify one from being placed on the team, but it is traditionally considered bad luck for a commander to overrule the will of his men and place someone on the team against their wishes. If the men and the commander have indicated their approval, however, the commander takes a green bandana - the traditional headdress of Tier One combat operators - and ties it on the new member's head, marking his status as a permanent combat team member.
Perhaps the two most characteristic accessories of Tier One operators are custom-built powered exoskeletons and the powerful TST ChemRail linear motor rifles. Although primarily using high-end Western-made gear, Tier Ones have access to and are proficient with a wide variety of weapons, habitually using Russian-made arms especially in cross-border operations where plausible deniability is required, and extra ammunition can be readily scavenged from local sources. In domestic settings and, more recently, in open warfare against the Mekhrus, Tier Ones prefer the unmatchedly-brutal firepower of the ChemRail that is their standard service weapon.
Although powered exoskeletons are also common in the regular forces, the exos worn by Tier One operators differ in quality and the degree of customization, often incorporating unique accessories and gadgets not available commercially, some being developed and built natively in but a handful of specimens.
While Baltic Union military does possess a small number of powered armor suits, and Tier Ones naturally have priority access to them, these suits do not see much use outside specific circumstances, with regular and special forces soldiers alike preferring their sleek, agile and stealthy exosuits over the blunt force tools that full-scale powered armor suits are.
Tier One troops have access to the full spectrum of vehicles available in the Baltic Union, but primarily travel on foot, or by inconspicuous regular army vehicles. Cross-country motorcycles, quad-bikes and recon buggies are also in use on certain missions. When long distances need to be covered, their vehicle of choice is the Skyranger VTOL. A relic from the NATO forces stationed here during the Great War, the Union's surviving fleet of Skyrangers has been meticulously maintained and constantly upgraded ever since, sporting some unique upgrades including a surprisingly-effective natively-developed stealth suite.
Tier One troops are also quite adept at building various improvised weapons, ranging from IEDs to flint knives and spears. The latter is a skill learned and practiced during the advanced wilderness survival training, where candidates must survive for two weeks in the unforgiving Baltic winter literally naked, scavenging everything from food to clothing from the surrounding environment. They are also known by their enemies for setting up ingenious traps, oftentimes designed to maim rather than kill, in order to slow the enemy down.
The most prominently featured Tier One operator in the Frencoverse is Cpt. Hendriks Vanags. While it has never been specified which battalion exactly does he belong to, given his initial stationing in Aizkraukle, it could be either Alpha or Sigma battalion.