SAS Troop & Selection

The Information that follows is quoted or para-phrased from:

SAS: A Soldier Story

“The selection phase, a nightmare world of physical pain and mental torture, disorientated, continually socked, no decent meals, a way of getting rid of all the weaklings…
…we call it rejection not selection.”

Soldiers are drawn for all of her Majesty’s forces, Navy, RAF, Royal Marines, Para’s, and each one of them is an ambassador for their regiments. A candidate must be physically fit and determined, it is widely accepted that after a couple of weeks of selection there is little to distinguish the candidates from a fitness viewpoint. What the selection process is doing is building all the candidates up to a very high level of fitness, and rejecting the weak ones, those candidates that can not hack it mentally.

“Physical fitness, determination, the will to carry on, to be able to go through a pain barrier – that’s determination and professionalism, and that’s what the SAS are looking for.”

The first part of selection is a series of marches (TABS) across the Brecon Beacons; you have to achieve a certain distance, within a certain time, carrying varying amounts of weight in your bergen. The directing staffs are there to assess you and set the Times of the marches.

“A training instructor will know in a short time what kind of person you are.  The selection process is very good at identifying that area of a person’s build-up.”

The weight in the bergen is initially made up of essential gear, that consists of foul-weather gear, a sleeping bag, medical equipment and distress flares.

The food carried is your ration for the day which generally consists of bread rolls, probably a couple Mars bars, and crisps, in addition a candidate will carry a normal army 24 hour ration pack which can only be opened in an emergency.

“Every morning I had to pull on my shoes and socks are over these seeping, septic, throbbing blisters, agony.”

Distances and weights are gradually increased over time; self-navigation starts to play a more important role, and a candidates’ alertness is tested at checkpoints along the routes. One candidate recalls being asked a question about their route, “how many supports were there on the bridge you went past?”

Night-time TABS are introduced to add a whole new element to testing candidates mentally and to accustom them to the SAS’s standard SOP of moving at night and taking cover by day.

It used to be common (among all CT forces worldwide) to taunt candidates on the TABS and to encourage them or trick them into giving up, such acts were often just tests to check how alert a candidate remained after a long and hard TAB. This policy has been scraped and while candidates are often reminded how easy it is to quit, active encouragement is also given, especially to candidates contemplating quitting.

A candidate will eventually progress to the “ultimate physical test”, which is the endurance march, a 65 kilometre TAB with a 55 pound bergen and assault rifle, this must be completed in approximately 22 hours

Simply completing the selection course is not enough, every candidate will be evaluated by the directing staff and told whether they have passed the selection phase. Great care is taken not to shatter a candidates’ confidence, it will be stressed that while not suitable for the SAS, they will be of great help to their old units.

The selection process would have started with approximately 200 candidates, most will drop out within the first few days, and by the end of it about 30 too 40 will remain.


The Information that follows is quoted or para-phrased from:

SAS: A Soldier Story

If a candidate completes the selection process he will go onto the training phase, the constant assessment of the selection process is carried through into the training programme and only about 50% of entrants will complete it.

A huge range of new skills will be taught and a candidate must learn and adapt to these very rapidly, details of the training programme are secret but a little is known and what follows is taken from the video SAS: Selection & Training.

A candidate will constantly be in the gym maintaining and improving their already high level of fitness; the first thing they are taught is superb weapon handling during a 4 week weapon handling phase.  They must master all the weapons used by the SAS (details of which can be found in the weapons & equipment section of this site.)  They must also master a huge arsenal of foreign weapons, “when operating world-wide, often with indigenous forces you must have the ability to pick up that weapon and use it effectively.”

Next comes driving training, every operative must be able to “use a car as a means of getting out of a hazardous situation, particularly when on VIP protection”. Then comes demolition training, medical training and patrol skills, exercises are designed to train candidates in how to react when under enemy fire. Navigation, particularly when moving at night or when under fire is enhanced, team cohesion is built upon, there is a technique to extracting yourself from an ambush but this only works if the team works together, and goes in the right direction.

The video makes no mention of it but presumably outdoor survival techniques are taught in amongst this lot, living off the land, building fires, etc, and at some point they must learn some advanced camouflage techniques and how to build observation posts.

The candidates are also taught observation techniques, where they must defend a structure from attack. Observation techniques involves not so much looking for a soldier coming towards you but looking for changes in the terrain, shadow changes, moving foliage, or reflections from scopes, watches or binoculars, or perhaps they are trained to smell them like Arnie in Commando (quite possibly the worst film ever!)

Anyway, all these skills are put to the test and enhanced during jungle training, which normally takes place in Brunei or Belize, I’ve heard different things about the length of this training, ranging between four weeks and three months.

A major test of character because if you suffer from claustrophobia it soon starts to show in the jungle because of the close quarters of the vegetation, “all you can see is a sea of green”. However few have failed because if claustrophobia, but many fail because they become sick, there are all kinds of nasty diseases out in the jungle and you need a healthy immune system to keep them at bay.  The jungle is where the candidates’ navigation and patrol skills will really be tested and out of the 30 to 40 extremely motivated candidates that started the training programme around 15 – 20 will remain to take the hardest test the SAS candidate has to endure.

Manhunt – escape and evasion phase – seven days

The escape and evasion exercise gives a guy an idea of what it is like to meet an enemy force, to be on the run, to have to live of the land, to try to escape from dogs, helicopters, and troops “To give a guy a feeling of self-sufficiency.”

You’re set lose in an old, ill-fitting army blade coat, held together by a piece of string, a pair of old baggy trousers and a pair are all boots tied together by string.  You’re set off into the night with a button compass and a sketched map; you’re given a short head start and you’re not allowed to use roads, tracks, or enter buildings, you are pursued by a hunter force that have all the modern technology available to them.

It is designed to put you through severe stress, the course last for seven days, if you are caught on day one; you have six days of stress and interrogation.

Candidates aren’t expected to last more than a couple of days before they are caught, the craftier ones may hall up in a building or stay with a helpful local but they risk being thrown of the course for doing so, but when eventually caught they will be mentally and physically drained.  Most would have been on the run almost none stop with little or no food, they will be handled very aggressively by the hunter force, the emphasis being on realism, because if they can’t handle the stress of an exercise they won’t last 5 minutes with a real enemy. When caught a bag is put over the troopers’ head and tied around his neck, they are thrown in the back of a lorry and transported to a detention facility, immediately they are strung up and a bucket of cold water thrown over them, then they are left with ‘white noise’ playing constantly.  They must be able to survive not only the physical torture of capture, but also the boredom of just being left, cold, hungry and blind.

“You run everywhere, if you fall you are dragged, the limits of an exercise are stretched.”

At no point will they meet another candidate, if you try to remove your hood, you fail.

After a few hours it begins, the ‘softening up process’ is designed to break down your barriers ready for and interrogation, the whole process is a play on phobias many ‘tests’ are given and the candidate remains hooded throughout all of them. One of the tests is to where a candidate is put in a little hut, no bigger than a kennel and locked in with a corrugated iron plate put on the roof, the guards then beat the roof with chains, this sound is horrendous and if you’re claustrophobic you’re for it.

“Stuff is always going on, you haven’t eaten, drunk, or slept, you’re physically and mentally knackered, but you always keep your mind focused.”

“One classic disorientation excise is to handcuff you to a railway line and leave you, you’d hear the rolling-stock coming down the line, what you don’t see is that a few feet away a junction sends the stock of in a different direction.”

Some Internet sites also claim that a person will often yell, “get that guy off of the tracks“, which is followed by some frantic “bloody hell the train is coming, get him off the tracks” and then “bloody hell, leave him and jump for it.” The candidates’ reaction is the test, some may scream, some will wriggle around so much they actually end up lying across the tracks and some ingenious ones will manage to position the cuffs so that the chain will be cut so that they can escape.  Another trick is to tie you up and leave you staggering around with cars driving around you. Other time a man will be left in a room and all they can here is a person being beaten in the next room, followed by some vomiting, what they don’t know is that it is actually a mattress been beaten and some guards pretending to be sick.

It’s been known for hard men too physically and mentally breakdown and become sobbing wrecks during this whole process.

Next comes a mental test against an interrogator, you pick your wits against him, or you can tell him is your number, no names nothing, just “I can’t answer that question Sir.” The process continues, “you can’t gauge the length of time this lasts but at some stage you’re taken out, taken into a room, you gear your self up ready for whatever it is they have in store for you but instead you find the Directing Staff with some food and coffee, he shakes your hand and say’s, for you the war is over.”

Even then you don’t know whether you’ve past you will wait with all the other remaining candidates and be told one by one whether you’ve past.