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What makes an SAS Man?

By Paul Sibley (Ex SAS)

The qualities required to pass the selection process are exactly the same as those required to survive in the Regiment. The most important one is determination; without it, don’t even think of applying. You have to want to pass more than anything else in the world. Spencer Chapman had it right when he wrote in his book ‘The Jungle is Neutral’, “The apostle Matthew’s “the spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak” is a poor text, because if the spirit can endure, the body will usually have the capacity to do so”. The desire to succeed which overwhelms everything else. “I have set my face as a most hard rock “(Isaiah 50:7) sums it up well also. Perhaps sheer bloody-mindedness as well, the determination not to be beaten, no matter what. To never give in. Most people who fail Selection do so because they give in, they just jack. Very few fail due to being rejected by the instructors.

Physically there is nothing out of the ordinary with the average successful candidate, so long as they are sound in wind and limb. They do not start off super fit – that comes later, as a result of the training, and the determination to succeed. I have seen super –fit Paras and others fail Selection simply because they didn’t have the determination, or the ability to fit in, which brings me to my next point. SAS soldiers have to be mentally tough, self-disciplined individuals; they have to be able to stand on their own two feet, alone. But they also have to be able to work as members of a small team. Anyone who is bombastic or arrogant, brash or over-confident, just won’t fit. Most SAS soldiers are quiet self-effacing individuals who actively pursue excellence, and thus have an air of self-confidence. A strong sense of humour helps when the chips are down, to see the ridiculousness of a situation, the ability to laugh when things are really bad.

There is no point in having the above traits if you are not in the right place at the right time, or lack the skill to complete the task. So, the ability to use a map and compass accurately is very important. GPS’s are no substitute, even if they were allowed on Selection. The time will always come when you have to rely on a map and compass. The various forms of training are vital to achieve the technical efficiency required of an SAS soldier, to be better than anybody else. The ‘six P’s’ are one of my favourites “Practice and Preparation Prevents Piss-Poor Performance”.

Perhaps, courage is the other requirement. I think there are two kinds of courage; the spur-of-the-moment kind, when a man will leap into a burning building to rescue his friend, and the cold, deliberate kind, which makes a man take a course of action, having worked out the situation, understood the risks, and yet goes ahead. This simply an extension of what I talked about first – DETERMINATION. Without it, nothing else is possible. Lord Moran, who was Winston Churchill’s physician, and who served as a trench doctor in WW1 said “Courage is a moral quality; it is not a chance gift of nature like an aptitude for games. It is a cold choice between two alternatives, the fixed resolve not to quit; an act of renunciation which must be made not once but many times by the power of the will. Courage is willpower.” (The Anatomy of Courage).

Finally, I would quote Bruce Niven, who used to be my squadron commander “The men of the Regiment are proud of their skills, hardness and professionalism. They believe implicitly in themselves, and, with dogged tenacity, they complete any task given to them to do. What they do, they do for the Regiment, their comrades, and for the winged dagger and other emblems of the Regiment that they carry. When pushed to the very limits of his endurance, with his store of physical and mental reserves all but exhausted, when facing danger alone and with his mission still uncompleted , it is the pride of being a member of the SAS that drives a man on towards his target rather than patriotism or images of Queen and Country.” (Special Men, Special War)

Paul Sibley, author of “A Monk in the SAS

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