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The most gruelling tests of the SAS

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Starvation, sleep deprivation and coping with torture: they’re all part of the job application for anyone who wants to join Australia’s most elite fighting force.

A branch of the Australian Defence Force, the Special Air Services Regiment (SASR) is not for the faint-hearted.

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This week military police officer Kristen Griest and helicopter pilot Shaye Haver became the first women to graduate from the US Army Ranger School, passing tests such as starvation, physical endurance and parachuting.

Although they’re now eligible for the elite 75th Ranger Regiment, they are unable to join because of their gender.

Soldiers must strip down naked to test their ability to cope in uncomfortable situations. Photo: You Tube
Soldiers must strip down naked to test their ability to cope in uncomfortable situations. Photo: YouTube

In Australia, gender restrictions on in-service recruitment to combat corps and the SASR were lifted at the beginning of 2013, with all gender restrictions on direct recruitment to combat corps to be lifted from January 1, 2016.

Australian SASR recruits must endure similar torment to their American counterparts, with former SASR officer Harry Moffitt telling the ABC in 2014: “in short we try and deconstruct a person down to their bare humanity”.

This includes extreme tests that assess physical endurance, psychological resilience and the unique cognitive abilities required to be part of the elite regiment.

First up, bare all

Inhibitions must be shed early in the 21-day selection process.

Although physically effortless, group nudity is designed to gauge the mental strength of potential candidates.

“The cause for us stripping them off naked is to level them out,” selection course instructor ‘Sergeant G’ says in a 2011 SBS documentary.

“Obviously there are some very fit blokes there, we populate the staff with as many women as possible, it is another psychological ploy to play on their minds – it isn’t a comfortable thing to be standing there nude with all these people looking at you as you put your socks on.”

Some recruits are offered a lift after several lengthy marches. Photo: You Tube
Some recruits are offered a lift after several lengthy marches. Photo: YouTube

No such thing as a free ride

Forced marches and night navigation trials make frequent appearances in the SASR selection process.

One test detailed by The Australian sees recruits subjected to several forced marches, including a night navigation trial.

“An exhausted recruit will gratefully struggle on to the back of a truck, only to be ordered to walk back to the original destination, which could be 20km to 30km away,” the article states.

“This is a test of mental pain. Some recruits throw it in and refuse to go on. Others spit in their hands, accept the order and begin what they think is going to be another gruelling march, only to find the truck parked around the corner with the real offer of a lift back to base.”

Unhappy wanderer

A four hour climb with a 50kg pack is part of the Happy Wanderer test. Photo: You Tube
A four hour climb with a 50kg pack is part of the Happy Wanderer test. Photo: YouTube

Following 10 days of sleep deprivation and intense mental pressure, a deceptively enchanting test called ‘happy wanderer’ awaits.

But it is anything but happiness.

Dropped into one of the most remote and rugged places in Australia, recruits must traverse barbaric territory carrying more than 50kg in a pack.

They are forced to operate alone, walking for five days across a distance of up to 150km.

Resistance to interrogation

A harrowing ordeal awaits candidates at the end of their three week course.

Called ‘Resistance to Interrogation’, it is every bit as terrifying as it sounds, former SAS Patrol Commander Stuart ‘Nev’ Bonner says.

The three-day interrogation involved constant sleep deprivation, starvation, 24 hours of non-stop interrogation and being suspended above a tank in mid-air and dunked in ice cold water.

“By now I wasn’t sure how long I had been at the interrogation centre,” Bonner recounts in his book.

“I kept losing track of time and had to force myself to concentrate until reality re-emerged.”

Ultimately though, the harsh truth for recruits is that even successful completion of this course does not guarantee selection for the elite SASR squad.

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