Building an SAS warrior: ‘We break ’em to see what’s left’
While Schapelle Corby and other celebrities are emulating SAS soldiers on TV, Australia's real up-and-coming elite commandos are being pushed to the brink in a gruelling selection course.
The Daily Telegraph was given exclusive access into the ADF's Commando special forces entry program at Sydney's Holsworthy Barracks last week.
Only 150 members were picked to try out from 300 of the best Defence applicants across the country.
By the fourth day, just 115 were standing. One soldier fainted and vomited and another medically removed himself from the course.
Colonel S* (name withheld) said challenging workouts and sleep deprivation exercises over the three weeks were designed to "break them down to see what's left".
"If you're in a war zone, you can't quit. This course strips away to your true character - physically and mentally," Colonel S said.
"These guys will lose nine kilos in three weeks. We're building a special operator.
"Someone who has the physicality to do high-end soldiering … shoot, move, parachute, fight, communicate … but is also able to sit down next to an ambassador and brief them."
Like the Channel 7 TV show, soldiers eat, sleep and train together during the course. They are also given a number as a name.
The Telegraph was escorted onto the western Sydney grounds at 3.30am, just before the applicants were woken after having only two hours sleep.
They were marched to the oval not knowing what was in store for them.
The trainers, who participants call the staff, could have come from the set of a Hollywood war movie. They were incredibly fit with bulging arm muscles, some with multiple tattoos.
They wore green berets, stood tall, swore and shouted orders.
The applicants, in their full khaki army wear, were put through arduous training exercises which included sprints, crawling, burpees, and weightlifting.
"If you finish in the bottom third, you more than likely won't be standing here tomorrow," a trainer, who had passed the course himself, told The Telegraph.
"Very little feedback is given to the candidates. Which often makes it more uncomfortable."
Colonel S said they wanted people who would take orders without question and were mentally and physically tough as bricks - no matter their gender or ethnicity.
"You usually get one (female) who applies. A female completed the course in 2017. We're missing a large talent pool in the community," he said.
"We're really keen to get an ethnically diverse workforce so we don't all look white Anglo-Saxon. It does help if you can speak the language and understand the culture."
Due to COVID, tough restrictions were put in place for participants, including mandatory hotel quarantine for 14 days. And Victorian residents were not allowed to try out at all.
Trainers put participants through an agonising handful of "false finishes" - pretending the session was over and marching them off, before calling them right back.
"We're trying to wear them down physically and mentally. Trying to get them a bit disorientated. Throwing in different commands here and there," Colonel S said.
After 90 minutes, a participant dropped to the ground, and started vomiting.
The on-site paramedic ran to him and assisted, as did a few trainers.
"That shows he's probably not done enough physical training. His body couldn't continue," Colonel S said.
Another participant discharged himself for an ongoing leg injury.
The last people standing will not be able to go back home. They will be away from their family for a year on intense training camps - until they are trained Commandos.
Lieutenant Colonel L was the commander of a Special Operations Taskforce deployed to Iraq for seven months last year to train their soldiers in counter-terrorism.
"We were making sure our Iraqi partner forces have the training required to defeat the Islamic State," he said.
The married father-of-two, who has completed multiple overseas missions, said he did not have time to worry about being away from family because he was focused on the task at hand.
*The Daily Telegraph was unable to name the colonels and lieutenants due to security reasons
Originally published as Building an SAS warrior: 'We break 'em to see what's left'