The Special Air Service (SAS) train on the Brecon Beacons
Two soldiers who died on a training exercise in the Brecon Beacons on the hottest day of the year, 30C (86F) and were taking part in well known gruelling climbs allegedly for selection into the SAS, it has been reported. Images taken in 2011.
To be considered for selection, you must have at least three months experience in your regiment and at least three years left to serve. You must also be able to pass the Battle Fitness Test (BFT). You must file a Defense Council Instruction (DCI) which certifies that you are prepared to be put forward for arduous duties.
There are two selections a year, one in winter and the other in summer. The general idea is that you either suffer from hypothermia in winter, or suffer from heatstroke in summer. It lasts four weeks (three build-up weeks, one test week). Officers, however, have only two build-up weeks in order to pass the test week.
The recruits first go to Stirling Lines, outside Hereford, to have a medical and pass the BFT. 10% fail here. The rest are issued the equipment that they need for selection. Then they are bussed out to Dering Lines in Beacon where selection will start.
Selection is simple. Get from A to B, from B to C etc, within an allotted time. Sounds simple? It is. The only problem is that A to Z in total is over 10km away. 10km isn't a long distance, but it is when you are carrying a heavy self-loading rifle, webbing, and a Bergen (a standard issue British Army rucksack). Another problem is that the distances the soldier covers increase each day, as do the loads that they bear. Soldiers get up about 4am every morning and are not allowed to use roads. If they do, then they are disqualified. The most difficult part of selection is the Brecon Beacons - anybody who has walked them, will know exactly just how physically exhausting they are.
After a day or so, the old equipment you have been given is starting to cut into you, giving crippling blisters and sores. The best soldiers don't give up because of this - they go to the Medical Officer at night, and then get up with the rest of the recruits, ready for another day's hell the following morning. In selection, you are expected to be fit, but you've also got to be intelligent. Numbed by pain, you'll be given tasks to do at rendezvous points (RVs), such as stripping a foreign weapon and then reassembling it.
This continues for three weeks, with the recruits managing about four hours' sleep a night. The next part of selection is imaginatively called 'Test Week'.
Test week consists basically of six marches, the first five being 17 miles long requiring the soldier to march with a 30k pack on his back while map reading. However, that's not all. Test week culminates in the 'Long Drag'; a 40-mile march which has to be completed in 20 hours.
Selection is carried out alone. There is nobody in selection shouting encouragement - it's just you trying to motivate yourself. This isn't like other forces which have instructors shouting at you to do better, or mates encouraging not to drop out. The only person forcing you to go through hell is you. This is because soldiers working in isolation must have absolute motivation and must not crack up. A good example of this is Chris Ryan's 300km Trek to safety in Iraq, which, for the most part, was done solo.
You ask yourself, why is selection mostly about hill walking and map reading? Well since the SAS' conception, they were deemed to be a strategic resource, not just kick-ass tactical soldiers. Nowadays, in major conflicts, the SAS is mostly tasked with long range reconnaissance, which selection tries to recreate.