The British Army’s Special Air Service, aka SAS, began operations in 1941 during the Second World War. The reason for having such a specialized set of soldiers was to get behind enemy lines and attack them from within, or at least destroy what they could while gaining intelligence. It still takes part in operations that involve the United Kingdom, but as it’s very much a covert Special Forces unit much of what the SAS does is a secret.
The Navy SEALs (Sea, Air, and Land team) was formed much later, when President John F. Kennedy established them in 1962 as a clandestine unit which, like the SAS, would take-on special missions much of the time in very hostile environments. They also act under a veil of secrecy, and are sometimes referred to as America’s secret warriors.
If both these units are so secretive, then how does one get a job with them?
Well, with the SAS, there is a small problem to begin with if you are a mere civilian…they won’t allow you to apply. So to start with, you must already be in the British Armed Forces, or be a soldier in the British Commonwealth. Another way to get in is to join the SAS reserves, and they do accept civilians. As long as you’ve passed the reserve training and worked with them at least 18 months, you can apply to work in the SAS proper. To apply for the SAS, you should be 18-32 years of age, and be in amazing physical and mental shape. You’ll be required do at least a 3-year stretch. Women can apply, but have so far been excluded from most combat movements. To apply, you must accept that you know the harsh demands expected of you – people have died during training – and that means signing an Army General Administrative Instruction (AGAI) form. You’re basically acknowledging you are willing to go through hell.
Next comes the medical, the Battle Fitness Test, which will mean running fully-kitted, or squadded, for 1.5 miles (2.5 km) in 15 minutes. Apparently 10 percent of applicants don’t even make it past this point. That pace for even an average person in running shoes and shorts isn’t too bad. Now you start your real training.
To join the Navy SEALs, you need to be a natural born or naturalized American between the ages of 18 and 28, although at 17 you can join if your parents say it’s ok. If you want to become an officer, you can be up to the age of 33. The first woman ever started the training in 2017, but dropped out soon after.
You’ll need to have a clean record, and many background checks will be done. You’ll then undergo physical and mental tests, including an eye test to make sure you have under 20/70 vision. As for what shape you must be in, well, you are going to go through hell with the SEALs so they suggest you follow their Naval Special Warfare Physical Training Guide. This includes lots of long and short swims and runs, lots of interval training, as well as other workouts. As for other strength training, their gym workouts basically tell you you’ll have to be as strong as a bull, as well have all the cardio attributes. You’ll be screened before you can start training, and that will mean you must show you can run 1.5 miles (2.5 km) in 11 minutes, but not squadded. This also comes after a 500 yard (450 meter) swim in 12.30 minutes, 42 push-ups, 50 sit-ups, and 6 pull-ups. All with a short rest in between.
Once you actually start training with the SAS, the first phase lasts 4 weeks. This will test your endurance and ability to navigate through the wilderness – that being a harsh mountain range in Wales. In 2015, a young recruit died during this exercise just half a kilometer from the end. He died at the part nicknamed VW Valley, standing for Voluntary Withdrawal Valley. Two other soldiers died that day, too, leading to an inquest into the treatment of soldiers.
Some of the activities in the mountains include a 15 mile (24 km) hike to start with. Those that can get through that then have to do a 40 mile (64 km) hike carrying a 55 lb backpack (25 kg), a rifle, plus their food and water. They are not allowed to use any established trails, but they do have a map and a compass. After that, they can rest a bit and start the weapons training phase as well as do parachute training. After that, there is 6 weeks of jungle training, usually in the rainforests of Belize, Borneo, or Brunei. The last phase is called ‘Escape and Evasion’, which will mean being forced into some horrible survival scenarios as well as learning how to handle being interrogated. This will include humiliations and other psychological harassment, as well as being blindfolded, deprived of sleep, given nothing to eat or drink, being put in stress positions, imprisoned in a small cage, and having to listen to loud noises all the time. SAS tough guy turned novelist said physical injuries finish a lot of people off during training, but you need a lot of strength of will to get through the psychological stuff.
In 2016, the Washington Times reported that one Navy SEAL died in three out of the last four training classes. One was a drowning, another a suicide, and another a car crash after drinking heavily. The Post states that the 6 month training will include “a seven-day stretch of little sleep, self-induced hypothermia, and brutal physical conditioning known as “Hell Week.” It’s Hell Week where most recruits drop out.
The training in Colorado starts with 5 weeks of pre-training in class. Get through that and you enter the realm of pain and indignity. The Navy SEALs website doesn’t go into specifics, but states that you’ll be tested to your limits of fatigue. This will include running through sand, swimming in oceans – sometimes in the middle of the night with your clothes on – rappelling down cliffs or buildings at speed, enduring cold and heat, getting lost and finding ways out, combat training, long-distance underwater dives, weapons and explosives training, mission planning, tactics training, and more. Hell Week seems to be the worst part. One soldier described it as being, “designed to put you through 24/7 days of no rest and continual harassment.” From his class of 300, only 19 completed the training. In all, it will last 5 ½ days and you’ll almost continuously be pushed to your limits. You are allowed no more than about 4 hours sleep during the entire training. You’ll also have to deal with integration in what’s called the Survival, Evasion, Resistance, and Escape phase. Former SEAL Brandon Webb said it will involve sacks over your head, being beaten with sticks, and humiliation. It’s here, he said, that some people lose their minds.
At least after that you get some classroom time. For 7 weeks you’ll also have a land warfare phase, as well as parachute training. If you pass it all, you’ll be given the Navy SEAL Trident, but then have to do advanced training. This will include sniper, communications, and free fall parachute training.
Once you are done, you’ll have way more weapons to use than a regular soldier. In the SAS, this will include a C8 Carbine assault rifle, an Ultra Compact Individual Weapon, an M16, an HK MP5 sub machine gun, an HK417 sniper rifle, an AW 50 anti-material rifle, handguns, tear gas canister launchers, stun grenades, rocket launchers, portable anti-personnel mines, grenade launchers, Surface-To-Air missiles, and many more things it will take too much time to talk about. You’ll also, of course, get all the kit, including things like body armor.
According to the Navy Seal website, your regular SEAL on land will carry such things as the Colt Automatic Rifle-15, the M 60 machine gun, M-203 grenade launchers, a shot gun, an SASR .50 caliber sniper rifle, an M107 anti-material rifle, a Beretta M9 hand gun, a 20mm Gatling gun and AT-4 rockets. Again, these are just some of the most used weapons as the list is endless.
So, who do you think has the best training? Do you think you could get through it? Let us know in the comments!